Outcome vs Output

Success is an ambiguous word, with just as many intangibly squishy synonyms like "delivering value," "having an impact," and "great results."

And when it comes to celebrating our team's successes, highlighting the value we bring in our annual reviews, writing an impactful resume, or sharing the results of our work, the ambiguity of these terms do us no favors in helping us determine what we should capture.

And so we write about the wrong things.

To avoid this pitfall, I always remind myself to focus on Outcome and not Output.

Output is the work we produce: The emails we send, meetings we schedule, PowerPoints we build, lines of code we write, or things we fixed. Output isn't bad or good. It's just a means to an end (the Outcome).

Outcome is what happens because of your output (and sometimes despite it).

You may have led 5 projects, managed 50 people, wrote 500 lines of code, fixed 5,000 bugs - and all of those are meaningless (yes, even fixing 5,000 bugs!) if nothing good came of it.

Maybe those 5 projects came in under budget. Maybe the 50 people you managed all reported huge career growth, high team satisfaction, or delivered above and beyond. Maybe those 500 lines of code optimized your app to run 25% faster. Maybe the 5,000 bug fixes meant a more stable & secure application.

Those are more Outcome-focused - albeit, still superficial. These outcomes imply goodness. Of course, we'd want the app to run 25% faster...but...why? What does a faster app get us? Why should projects be under budget? Why do you want a happy team? What does a stable a secure app do for you?

Like a tree falling in an empty forest, if an app runs 25% faster and no one is using it, does it even matter? 

The sound of the falling tree is an Output. It's inconsequential. However, fallen tree have Outcomes that are hard to ignore: negative outcomes like erosion, desertification, and positive outcomes like feeding new growth, and hosting all kinds of fungi, insects and animals.

The most objective and universal measure of an Outcome is revenue. When you can express an Outcome in terms of revenue, that's amazing. Fixing 5,000 bugs resulting in a $5M increase in revenue is huge. But, let's be honest, sometimes it's hard to see the direct correlation. Sometimes we're too far from dollars, or don't readily have access to that information. 

That's why the world is full of proxies for revenue: NPS, active users, new users, utilization, reviews, lead & cycle times, task completion times, and so much more. Anything worth doing should be measurable (otherwise how do you know it's 'worth doing'?)

Go ahead and re-read your resume, review your LinkedIn profile, scrutinize an announcement or employee review. How much of it is Output, and how much should be an Outcome?


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