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Focusing a product team on outcomes

If you want your team to have a greater impact on your business, its overall mission, and the customers you serve, you need to value the ‘why’ over the ‘what’; you need to focus on the outcomes of your work, the reason behind what you do, and not the outputs, the actions you take to get there.

Any digital product that your team creates should be serving to meet the real needs of your end users.

They don’t care about the methods you employ or how your team is organised, their sole concern is the end result and if it adds value to their lives, so you need to adopt an outcome-centric approach.

Not only will your team benefit from greater flexibility to achieve your desired outcomes, but with clear outcomes established from the start, your team will be more invested and aligned with what it is that customers need.

Being outcome-focused means that invaluable customer feedback is taken into consideration throughout the development of a product, not only once it has been launched.

Outcomes over outputs

So, what’s the difference between outcomes and outputs?

Outcomes encompass the reasons why your team and business exist in the first place. Output is the work you put in to achieve your outcomes.

Take Uber for example. Their outcome is that they want to deliver ultimate convenience to their users, with passengers hailing rides and drivers charging fares to get paid. Their output is the app that enables this to happen.

In years gone by, a car manufacturer’s outcome and output would have been roughly the same. There would have been a target to produce X amount of cars per year and the outcome they were aiming for was that number of cars.

Uber, of course, doesn’t work like this; they don’t own any physical cars, so their outcome is driven by their users.

This is why the hours required to build something isn’t an accurate indicator of value.

If your team is building a product that it has built hundreds of times before, you can reliably predict how long it will take. But when you’re pushing the boundaries of innovation (like Uber were back in 2009), there are unknowns that you can’t account for.

There are elements that are outside of the control of your team and trying to rush a product to market runs the risk of creating something that is unwieldy or altogether unusable.

Define your product vision

Although we’re advocating for outcomes over outputs, this isn’t to say that outputs shouldn’t be measured throughout a project. It’s just important to define them in relation to the value of your outcomes.

For your team to be successful in achieving your desired outcomes, you first need to define what those outcomes are. Otherwise your team will become directionless in their approach and their work will be tantamount to guesswork.

Your first port of call when adopting outcome-focused product management is to set out your product vision.

Once you have defined your product vision, you can begin to set objectives that will help you achieve this. If your goal is to increase retention rates you will calculate this by dividing your app’s monthly active users by its monthly installs. Whatever your objective is, it’s important to remember that they should be measurable and in alignment with your product’s vision.

By having a defined vision for your product in place before anything is built, not only is your team aware of what needs to be done to get to that point, but they also buy themselves room to push back on client requests.

It’s only natural that once a project gets underway, clients and other external stakeholders may ask more of your team than initially briefed. With a distilled vision in place and an outcome-centric approach, your team can demonstrate how added requests and bolt-on features won’t deliver added value to end users. Instead, it will detract from the intended outcomes.

Instil a user-centric mindset

As with any digital product where your team is breaking new ground, it’s easy to get carried away. Your team can become so involved in creating something truly innovative that they lose sight of who they’re building for in the first place: the user.

The end user, whether human or other digital services that will interact with your product, is the reason you’re building your product – and it’s important to keep this at the forefront of your mind.

This is something that Instagram knows all too well. Many high profile users recently called out changes that had been made to the app that resulted in user feeds being littered with content from accounts they don’t follow.

This proves the value of conducting a thorough scoping session and using those findings to determine your overall product purpose or outcome.

The North Star strategy helps businesses do just this; it equips your business with the tools you need to gain a deep understanding of customer needs, helping you identify a single, crucial metric that captures the core value that your product delivers.

Instead of thinking about what trendy features to include in your product, think about what real problem your product is trying to solve, identify it and make it central to your strategy.

Becoming outcome-focused

So, you’re determined to become more outcome-focused, but how will this impact how you manage your team?

Here are a few tips to help ease the transition to outcome-focused management:

  1. Be transparent: when you first start switching from outputs to outcomes, let your team know why you’re doing this, and more specifically, how it will benefit them. If you include your team from the beginning, they’ll feel more invested in your vision and what it is you’re trying to achieve with your outcomes. Involve your team in the process, value their input, and watch them flourish.
  2. Track quantitative metrics: when you first make the transition from outputs to outcomes, the progress you’re likely to make won’t be seen – it will be in the intangibles. To bridge the gap between outputs and outcomes long-term, you need to be able to track results and keep your team motivated. Whether it’s reducing customer wait times or improving retention rates, your team needs to see the real effects of this new way of working.
  3. Progress reviews: it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day management of a project and feel like any time not spent working towards your outcomes is time wasted, but the opposite is true. You need to make the effort to review results regularly, ideally together. As a project continues, especially if it’s being completed over a series of months, it’s easy for outcomes to become diluted or forgotten altogether; use reviews as a time to check-in with your team collectively and individually.

Do you want to switch to outcome-focused product management?

By shifting your product team’s focus from outputs to outcomes, you allow them to become better connected, more agile and flexible in the way they approach delivery, and more in tune with the needs of your end users.

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