Project Management

Outputs versus Outcomes

From the The Professional Project Manager Blog
This series of articles examines, and offers insights and opinions, on all aspects of the profession of project management. I welcome your comments, feedback, support or dissent. I am passionate about the profession of project management and if, through our discussion, we can add value to the profession and practitioners then I am happy.

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Categories: Benefits, outcomes, outputs

One of the greatest challenges we face as project managers is a focus on outputs over outcomes.

Generally, projects are initiated to deal with a particular outcome. A problem or opportunity has been identified and the project has been established to provide a solution. The objective is that the outcome will be achieved and the problem resolved or the opportunity taken.

As part of the planning process of any project we identify an output, or outputs, which can deliver that outcome. We then take the steps as project managers to deliver that output but what often happens is we fail to check whether the output will still deliver the expected outcome.

Don’t get caught up in the assumption that your project output will deliver the outcomes it was supposed to do. Stay focussed on the outcomes during your project and be prepared to modify your outputs to ensure that you reach your intended outcomes.

So what’s the difference between outputs and outcomes?

If you work in the IT industry the outcome may be a better user interface leading to greater customer satisfaction. A project is established to develop a software output that is intended to deliver the outcome. At the time the project is initiated it is clear that with the information available that the output will deliver the outcome. But what if new information is discovered about ways to improve customer satisfaction? That is the time to revisit the output and see if it is still the best way to deliver the outcome.

If you work in the construction industry you may have identified that a particular public gymnasium building with a certain floor area, height and fit out will deliver the expected outcome of greater community involvement in recreation and greater levels of fitness. This should be your focus, not the building. You should always be prepared to examine your project from the point of view of the intended outcome and question whether the output is still the best way to achieve it.

One of the most important roles a project manager can play is to focus on the intended outcomes and be an advocate for this in their project. At times it may require some changes to your intended outputs but at the end of the day a focus on outcomes over outputs will result in a greater chance of project success, happier clients and an improved reputation.



Posted on: June 26, 2016 08:49 PM | Permalink

Comments (1)

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Hi Sean,

I like your explanation of the difference between output and outcome. Also, I agree that the project manager must know and have a focus on outcomes, as they define the success of the project (measured as satisfaction of stakeholders with the outcome).

As I see it, often, a project manager does not have influence on the outcome and that's why many projects are regarded as failures, even if the end in budget, schedule and scope (scope describes most often the output, not the outcome). And also, the PM needs the skills to understand and create outcomes, which are business skills he might lack.

Who then is in charge of creating outcomes? I think that should be someone in the role of a program manager (and he might be called a business line manager). Program management is at the core concerned with the steps to create outcomes (or benefits).

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