Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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Outcomes versus Outputs

The amazing feeling when you are getting things done

Does it not feel like an amazing accomplishment every week when your todo list is completely cleared off?  You started with a humongous list at the beginning of the week, and even though you didn’t want to, it actually grew during the week. Now on Friday, just before Friday drinks you are looking at a big list of done’s – done done done. 

Well done, but the question that pops up in your mind when riding the bus home in the evening after a few too many drinks is … were these the right tasks to close? Did you actually close the right things? In other words – was the output you were delivering leading to outcomes, or were you just producing output?

Let’s go take a discovery tour to find out. Let’s start with OKRs, and peel these off to get to your daily activities.

OKRs give direction and shape your activities

In order to figure out if you cleared out the right activities we are going to first determine what activities should have been on your list. This means your big bold vision or goal should be clear. Let’s look at an example – if your goal is organize the most amazing birthday party ever, the activities should include things like- buy beer / wine, invite friends, make sure there is enough food (if it’s a kids birthday party skip the beer/wine and swap it for lemonade and Dora the Explorer cookies). 

The OKR method (Objectives and Key Results) provides a structured approach to goal setting and figuring out activities that help you meet goals. OKRs at the company level make the direction of the organization incredibly clear to everyone. OKRs at the team and personal level should be linked to the company level ensuring everyone is moving in the right direction. Keep reflecting on and adjusting OKRs to stay on course. 

Ok, let’s link the OKRs to your task list. Objectives are long term things. Dots on the horizon where you are heading towards. They are not necessarily measurable, but give direction, like;

Company

  • Our company will be the most customer friendly organization in our space
  • Within 10 years we are a zero emission company
  • My company will become the most environmentally friendly energy provider in the country.

Team 

  • The products delivered by our team this year will all be produced without adding carbon dioxide to the environment
  • We are launching 2 initiatives this year that will help to increase customer satisfaction

Personal

  • Every new product initiative will lead to happier customers.
  • My 45th birthday party will the be most memorable event of the year

There we go, these things make people happy! 

Key Results deliver Output, not necessarily Outcomes

You define Key Results in order to reach your Objectives. When selecting the right Key Results, you are taking steps to get yourself closer to reaching your goal. It’s not always easy to define the specific activities that will help you meet your goals. Take the birthday party as an example. I can complete my activities to buy beer and wine, but will it guarantee that the party is going to be memorable? No, not really. 

Jan Bosch wrote a great article where he explains that your focus should be on defining activities (Key Results) that you can actually influence. Your Key results are typically oriented at producing output – like buying beer and wine, running a marketing campaign, deliver 3 new products. Jan Bosch says, focus on things you can do that will help you get closer to your goal and build a system that continuously helps you refine the choice of activities. When you do this, the likeliness that you will meet your goal will go up.

So Key Results focus on Output, whereas your Objective is an Outcome. Let’s zoom in at the Memorable birthday party. Achieving memorability status is very difficult to achieve. It’s a great outcome to go for, but you’re not going to mandate all your friends to behave memorably (is that a word?), and you can also not control all events at the party.

  • The cake can fall on the floor, and you had set your mind on eating the big chocolate piece on top. 
  • Your best friend had a fight with his girlfriend, and decided to drop out
  • The gift you received is something you already have, and that makes you depressing
  • Your ex is kissing with someone else at the party
  • … continue? 

Most of these things are uncontrollable, they can just happen and will make it not the best but the worst party of the year. You can however define a number of Key Results that will move things in the right direction:

  • 90% of the invited guests for your party commit to attend. (100% of your ex-girlfriends are not invited to the party)
  • Arrange with the baker to have the cake delivered in time
  • Validated the playlist for the party with the DJ
  • Prepare a shopping list of food items to buy for the party, and ensure all groceries are delivered in time including a set of alcohol free beer for Peter who never drinks
  • Put up a tarpaulin in the garden so everyone will stay dry in case of rain

These are not properly written as Key Results, but with a little effort you can write them as SMART Key Results. What do they deliver – well a lot of output. When all of these activities are executed, the chances of achieving a memorable party are pretty good. Output 

Things go wrong when you get the incorrect output

Back to the party. Let’s assume you wrote down the following Key Results for yourself

  • Create a simple evaluation form for the party, and leave it at the entrance for people to complete when they leave
    • tasks: create evaluation form, print out enough copies, buy pens
  • On the party, make a rule to not talk to people for longer than 5 minutes 
    • tasks: make a list of all guests
  • Switch energy provider before the party to save loads of money that you can spend on beer for the party.

Darn, that’s a lot of output you are generating. Nicely make them done done done items on your list. However, will they result in the most memorable party ever? Not really, they are interesting tasks, but are driving other results. 

A bit of a corny example perhaps, but I’m sure it will help you understand the difference between good and bad OKRs. So, make sure you set a nice bold goal, pick Key Results, and keep refining them over time. Work towards output, and if you create enough relevant output you will most likely get close enough to your Objective to meet it.

Go for it! 

Arjanhttps://www.productpizza.com
I've worked in product management most of my professional life. I enjoy all aspects of the product management role, except for anything related to administration. Coming up with new ideas, building great products, and working towards adoption and satisfied users drives me. Always looking forward!

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