Outcomes vs outputs: Understanding the difference and why it matters

In today's fast-paced and remote/hybrid workplace, outcomes and outputs have become buzzwords in the realm of product management and business. This is not by coincidence; as teams are becoming remote or distributed, managers and leadership need better ways to give direction and understand the impact their teams are making. That's why a lot of teams are changing from thinking a lot about outputs, to thinking about outcomes more.

By rallying around the outcomes we are trying to achieve, it's easier to manage, drive productivity, and keep your teams focused on the right things. Having clear outcomes gives meaning to the outputs, and gives you a north star to base your outputs off of.

Understanding the difference between an outcome vs output is crucial in achieving success and reaching your goals. In this article, we'll delve deeper into the distinction between outcomes and outputs and how the two relate and inform one another.

What is an outcome?

An outcome is the result or impact of an action or project. It is the change or benefit that occurs after a project is completed. Outcomes are typically expressed in terms of the benefits to the end-user or the business. For instance, the outcome of a marketing campaign might be an increase in sales, higher customer satisfaction, or enhanced brand recognition. Outcomes are essential because they are the ultimate goals that you want to achieve. You should always have clear and measurable outcomes in mind before starting any project.

Tracking outcomes is often done in the form of a success metric, which you check progress on periodically to make sure that progress is being made toward your outcome over a designated amount of time.

Some outcome examples:

Here are some example outcomes you can use with your teams:

  • Increase our Daily Active Users by 25%
  • Improve our onboarding flow by raising conversion rate to 9.5%
  • Get 1000 customers by the end of the quarter

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What is an output?

Outputs, on the other hand, are the tangible deliverables or results that come out of a project. They are often expressed in terms of the tasks or activities required to achieve the desired outcome. Some call them initiatives, projects, etc. In practice, the goal for an output is to get it from to-do to done as efficiently as possible and the progress is not measured over time.

For instance, the outputs of a marketing campaign might include a new website design, social media posts, or email newsletters. Outputs are important because they are the concrete steps that you need to take to achieve the desired outcome.

Some output examples:

Here are some example outputs you can use with your teams:

  • Create a new landing page test to try and raise conversion rates
  • Document all the new feature changes to use in the upcoming newsletter
  • Remove all unused subscriptions to lower our burn rate

Outputs vs Outcomes: how are they related?

The primary difference between outcomes and outputs is that outcomes are the changes or benefits that occur as a result of a project or action, while outputs are the tangible deliverables or results produced by the project or task. In other words, outcomes are the "what" you want to achieve, while outputs are the "how" you achieve it. Ideally, you and your team would start with a desired Outcome, then decide what Outputs you think will help achieve that Outcome.

You may see many people talking about "outcomes over outputs," as if outcomes are what you should focus on rather than outputs, but the two are intertwined. Like two sides of the same coin, you need outcomes to aim for to have the right outputs, and you need the right outputs to make progress toward that outcome.

Putting it into practice

Start by defining your outcomes, and then identify the outputs needed to achieve them. Now that's easier set than done, but there are many examples and tips out there that can get you thinking in the right ways. Utilizing tools like Tability can get you from just an idea to a detailed plan of Outcomes and Outputs in minutes, all with the help of AI.

Today, many teams are using the OKR methodology to get them to think more about Outcomes. OKRs naturally focus your efforts around Outcomes because it's a process that guides teams to try and improve chosen success metrics that they believe will help them succeed in their business goals.

(See how Outcomes and Outputs can be translated into OKRs.)

Becoming an Outcome-Driven Team

In summary, outcomes and outputs are not the same. Outcomes are the changes or benefits that occur as a result of a project or action, while outputs are the tangible deliverables or results produced by the project or action. If you're going to become an outcome-driven team, that means you start with outcomes and understand that the outputs should help you achieve those. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial for achieving success, measuring success, and communicating effectively.

If you start by defining your outcomes, and then identify the outputs needed to achieve them your team will have better direction, focus, and learn to prioritize around outcomes instead of just completing tasks.

Bryan Schuldt

Co-Founder & Designer



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