Outputs vs. Outcomes

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Outputs vs. outcomes: What is the difference?

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Definition of outputs vs. outcomes

Outputs are items or deliverables that a team produces, while outcomes are short to medium-term objectives. The words “outputs” and “outcomes” are often thrown around with little context to help define what each word means. This has led to many people using both terms interchangeably. However, outputs and outcomes are entirely separate measurements

Outputs are actual items that a team produces, often referred to as deliverables. Outputs are a purely quantitative measurement. They are simple to define and achieve because the feature or product psychically represents the result. Outputs can be combined to achieve the intended outcome; however, not every output will contribute to the outcome. 

Outcomes are short to medium-term objectives that your business is looking to achieve. Outcomes are both qualitative and quantitative metrics that represent the business’s goals. They usually represent the benefit your customers gain from the products you’re creating. For example, a business outcome could simply be “increased customer satisfaction.” Outcomes drive business strategy and influence the business’s outputs. 

Put simply, outcomes are what the business needs to achieve. Outputs are the actions or items that contribute to achieving the outcome.

Logic model

A logic model describes the project outcomes and the steps required to achieve those outcomes. It’s a recipe teams can follow to achieve the intended outcome. Logic models can be used in a wide range of sectors and they show how your product or program should work.

A logic model should clearly define the inputs, outputs, and outcomes of the project and explain the project's thought process. 

Output vs. Outcomes vs. impact

Outputs are the things that a project creates. These are any deliverables the development team produces, such as features, services, and the final product. They’re usually easy to measure because there is solid evidence with each completed output.

Outcomes are the overall goals for a product which often include customer-focused objectives. They can be more challenging to measure than outputs because they often relate to an individual’s perceptions or emotions rather than tangible items.

The impact is a long-term goal for the business. Impacts are often closely linked to the business’s mission statement and values. It’s difficult to measure impact, as it builds over a long time. Achieving multiple outcomes contributes to the overall impact.

Examples

One of the easiest ways to understand the difference between outputs, outcomes, and impact is to take it out of a business situation and look at it differently. 

A typical example is buying a cake for a child’s birthday. You head to the store and order a custom-made cake. Many would assume the cake is the outcome as the main objective of the task is to buy a cake, but that isn’t quite right. 

The cake is actually the output. It’s a part of the puzzle that comes together to form the outcome: a delighted child on their birthday. Keep up the streak of great birthdays, and you’ll find the impact is a great childhood.

While the cake isn’t the outcome, it plays an essential part of the overall picture. Getting the cake (output) right is crucial to achieving a great birthday party and a happy child (outcome).

Of course, there aren’t many situations in software development that involve cake, so let’s take a brief look at some examples relevant to our world. 

Examples of outputs

Examples of outcomes

  • Increased customer satisfaction

  • Increased sales

  • Increased product usage

  • Greater collaboration between team members

Examples of impact

  • Increased profits for the company

  • Greater brand awareness

  • Greater brand reputation

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General FAQ

Outcome vs. impact
Outcomes are short-term goals, usually applicable to the current project. The outcome is made up of multiple outputs and builds into overall impact. Impact represents a business’s long-term goals and usually links with its mission statement. Each completed outcome contributes to the business impact.

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