Outputs vs Outcomes

A common challenge people have when planning OKRs is the difference between output and outcomes. Here we’re going to help you know how and why differentiating output vs outcomes will help you set better goals and achieve more.

A common challenge people have when planning OKRs is the difference between output and outcomes. Here, we’re going to show you how our own OKR consultants and trainers would help you know how and why differentiating output vs outcomes will help you set better goals and achieve more.

What Are Outcomes & Outputs?

An outcome is a measurable result that can both describe what has been achieved as well as describe what success could look like. In the context of goal setting the outcome is what you want to achieve at the end of a period of time like a quarter.

An output is the work being done by a person, team or company. These are the activities, initiatives, projects, epics, sprints and to-dos and cards that are completed. They could also be described as things like functionality, features and campaigns.

Understanding the differences matters because having a meaningful way of clarifying what work is trying to achieve allows you to track and optimize value creation beyond working harder, faster and smarter.

What matters most, increase productivity or velocity by 100%, or, knowing that those improvements have had an impact on desirable outcomes like customer engagement, satisfaction and revenue?

We are going to explore the differences between outputs and outcomes and provide examples of how each can differ between teams.

Output and Outcome Examples

Here are some examples of outputs and outcomes for agile software engineering teams, marketing and human resources.

Agile SOFTWARE Team Outputs and Outcomes

Agile working principles are aligned with value creation and the principles of:

  • The highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery
  • Customer value creation is the measure of success
  • Strive for continuous improvement
  • Break work into small units of work and during this work do not be afraid to learn and make course corrections as you go
  • Dedicate people to teams and work on one project at a time
  • Continuously learning through experimentation

The goal of agile teams is to deliver customer value in every sprint, not just complete cards. If you’ve selected the right Output measurements you can gauge the value of the things being produced and the value that is being delivered.

There are usually outcomes that can be defined for goals that are ideally leading indicators that are tracked as KPIs as well. For example, the usage of a particular feature or the conversion rate from one customer journey state to another e.g. customer trial : paying customer. These leading indicators influence lagging indicators.

  • Revenue (Lagging)
  • CSAT (Lagging)
  • Churn (Lagging)
  • General usage e.g.
  • Weekly Average users (Leading)
  • Specific feature usage (Leading)
  • Conversion rate to action e.g. Trial to Paid Customer (Leading)

Another type of metric or KPI that might be targeted as a outcome related to department or teams KPIs. For software teams these might include:

  • Code coverage
  • Bugs
  • Release frequency
  • Technical debt
  • App performance e.g. response time

The outputs of software teams are cards. These are often grouped as sprints and epics.

Marketing Team Outputs and Outcomes

Marketing teams also work in an agile way with work being managed in projects and kanban boards and budgets, forecasts, OKRs or SMART goals being a common way to track performance.

What is typically achieved and could be classified as Outputs would include:

  • Campaigns launched
  • Content written
  • Visual / design units completed
  • Social content shared
  • Emails sent

The Outcomes marketing teams might be measuring will depend on factors such as whether the company in B2B or B2C but if we use a B2B example, these might include:

  • Followers / subscribers
  • Sign-ups / Leads
  • MQLs
  • Trial Customers
  • Customers
  • Revenue
  • Average Revenue Per Account
  • Average Cost of Acquiring Customer


Human Resource Outputs and Outcomes

The work done in HR teams is wide and varied and like the other examples given, is only intended to illustrate the difference between outputs and outcomes. It would not be uncommon for a HR teams to:

  • Recruit new employees
  • Onboard new employees
  • Training, counseling and coaching
  • Write HR policies
  • Track performance and write HR reports
  • Support reviews and appraisals

How would you know if the work was having the desired impact? The outcomes of that work might be measured using metrics such as:

  • Number of open job vacancies > X days
  • Post-onboarding feedback score
  • Employee retention
  • Policy awareness and compliance
  • On-time reviews and appraisals
  • Post appraisal feedback


OKRs Create Structure For Desired Outcomes

Outputs obviously matter and teams need to frequently discuss and adapt their outputs based on outcomes, it’s the outcomes that create meaningful value. High-performing teams work alongside OKR consultants to develop have clarity on the outcomes that will define what success looks like for any given quarter and these are often expressed as OKRs.


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