Output vs Outcome

There is a a lot of discussion these days on output vs outcome. Most take the position that we should focus on outcome instead of output.

The gist of the argument is that there is no value in measuring output because unless it impacts the outcome it is wasted. What does it mean to say you developed 10 features? Maybe the customer didn't need or want those features, in which case the value delivered is zero. Therefore, we should look at whether we are impacting outcomes (number of customers using the feature, repeat usage, revenue earned etc) instead of measuring output (number of features delivered).

I am sympathetic to this argument, but I take a contrary position. Over the last few years, I have come around to the thought that focusing at output is better for a development team than looking at outcomes.

Why? Because there are a huge number of variables that impact outcome, only a handful which are in your own control.

To take a sport example (cricket), sometimes a bowler gets wickets off full tosses and half trackers and ends up with very impressive figures. Another day they bowl brilliantly and keep getting the edge which runs for four. You can't judge the bowling based on the outcome. If they get a wicket from a full toss, that is not a feedback to bowl more full tosses. All the bowler can do is to focus on their own execution (output). That the execution was good is all what matters, then it ended up with a wicket or going for six is out of their hands.

In the same vein, when you deliver a feature, the final outcome involves not only your development team, but also other dependent dev teams, marketing, sales, business strategy, and so many other things. Sometimes a bad feature could get traction simply because of an amazing marketing effort (or vice versa). It is better to focus on improving your own execution process than getting distracted by external random variables.