Focus on outcomes over outputs
When starting an initiative, it's important to focus on the desired outcome before jumping to solutions. By focusing on the problem to be solved, we can ensure all ideas are considered and that we are all working towards a common goal.
Most organisations are idea driven: a problem is recognised by an individual, that same person has an idea to resolve it, and after some means of prioritisation the idea is executed.
This model can work great for small teams who are just getting started on their big idea because everyone is consistently on the same page and speaking the same language. But, as teams grow, issues arise. Idea-driven organisations often notice that the outputs of their teams (i.e., new features) do not achieve the outcomes they intended and that seemingly simple ideas end up taking a long time to deliver due to unclear scope. This looks like:
- "We built the feature customers were asking for, but nobody seems to be using it."
- "This feature seems so simple, but we're nine months in and it's still under development."
My advice to organisations is to focus more on outcomes rather than outputs. Outputs are the tangibles generated by your team, such as features, products and tickets. Outcomes represent the impact of your outputs. The key is to always keep in mind why you are doing something—what outcome are you trying to achieve?
"This month, we shipped a new product ordering user interface. We also fixed four bugs and conducted six customer interviews"
"This month, revenue grew by 10%, driven by the adoption of our new interface which allows customers to more easily order new stock from their suppliers. Fourteen support cases have been resolved thanks to the bugs we've fixed, and through some customer interviews, we've learned how we'll be tackling our next initiative.
Tips for product managers
- When scoping a new initiative, define the problem to be solved and the desired outcome first. Reframe initiatives from ideas to problems to be solved.
- Explore more than one idea/opportunity to address problems. Often, the first idea is not the best. A simpler solution is waiting to be discovered.
- Test assumptions early to mitigate wasted effort. Avoid chasing opportunities or big ideas based on assumed value. Think about the assumptions you're making and consider how they may be tested/validated.
- Break large initiatives into smaller chunks. If you suspect that you can get 80% of the desired outcome by focusing on the first 50% of the scope, do that first. By delivering a smaller chunk early, you may find further opportunities to reduce scope.
By focusing on outcomes rather than outputs, not only do organisations more often achieve the outcomes they're hoping for, they also find improved alignment within and between teams.