Outcomes not outputs: Why organisations should focus on value

Working in digital, solving problems can be a difficult business. It can be harder still if you don’t know exactly what problem you are trying to solve. 

Unfortunately, it’s still common to see businesses and organisations rolling out ambitious technology driven ideas and new features in the hope that they’ll make things better. There’s a common mindset that success is defined by a quantity of work – a list of features or other outputs that a) meet business requirements and b) arrive on schedule. But this approach leaves out one key thing: the user. If your organisation isn’t balancing business needs and technical viability with what users actually need, there’s a much lower chance of you creating the right thing. There’s also a much higher chance of wasting time and money. 

Defining outcomes

At Zaizi, we create products and services for the public sector that solve complex problems – often for people in difficult or unfamiliar situations. Because of this, it’s important we are doing our best to build software that is outcome driven, user centred and guided by evidence. If we don’t, people can face fundamental issues that affect them in their day to day lives. 

That’s why we like to talk about outcomes, not outputs. But what does this mean? 

An outcome describes what a user can achieve and not how they achieve it. For example:

Outputs are more likely to describe the things that help them to achieve their outcome. For example:

Working with a focus on outcomes has several benefits. Focusing on outcomes:

Focusing on outcomes, not outputs

To define outcomes, we have to build real empathy for our users – what they want to achieve and what motivates them. It means we don’t have to guess what they need – and guess the solutions to those needs.

At the start of a project, we like to ask a few important questions. 

There’s a lot to gain from asking questions like this. It means we can develop a shared understanding of what outcomes we are trying to achieve. And it enables us to add tangible, measurable value for users and for organisations in the simplest possible way. Using the answers to these questions, we can explore a range of different solutions, which we can quickly get feedback on and change when needed. 

Remember, people don’t need features. They just need to be able to do something that meets their needs – and that could be achieved in a thousand different ways.

READ: Our user research mission statement for 2022

When designing for humans, set goals

When we say outcomes, not outputs, we’re really talking about human behaviour. Specifically, we’re talking about changing human behaviour. For example, a supermarket might want to encourage people to do their weekly food shop online instead of in person. So the change in human behaviour is the shopper being able to purchase their groceries online.

The key precursor to an outcome is the goal. Why are we working towards this particular outcome? By defining the goal, we can identify outcomes that will help us achieve it. Take the online food shop example. The goal might have been to reduce the number of visits to stores to lower costs. Or it might be to allow customers to shop safely during the pandemic. 

All of this brings us back to value. To understand what value we’re adding, we need to be able to benchmark and then measure this change in behaviour. If you don’t measure the outcome, you won’t know if you’ve succeeded, and you won’t be able to track what value you have added. So with the supermarket example, does converting 5% of customers to online shopping mean the original goal is met? If not, how about 30%? And how can we keep measuring it so that we know when user behaviour changes, we can come up with a new outcome?

Goals, outcomes and measures are all intrinsically linked. You can’t and shouldn’t have an outcome without a clear goal and a way to measure the value you are adding.

In an upcoming blog, we’ll talk about what we’re doing at Zaizi to make sure we keep outcomes front and centre.

Thanks for joining us! We’ll keep you informed with regular updates.

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