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The difference between Output and Outcome

Updated: Dec 1, 2022


“You don’t sell a quarter-inch drill, you sell a quarter-inch hole to your customer”

I am most certain that you have read the above statement somewhere or heard from someone in the management while talking to the sales team, trying to inculcate the habit of value proposition in their teams. The phrase emphasises that clients don’t buy drill for what it is but for what it does- make a hole. In the context of Sales, it's called selling benefits vs selling features. Benefits could be further "drilled down" to what the hole helps the client achieve- fix a temporary birthday celebration area for the kids or modify an existing relaxation area for elderly parents. The benefits go far and beyond the features. If we extrapolate this analogy to the context of Project Management, a drill would be the output of a project and a hole is the outcome.

The activities of a project are aligned towards achieving an Output, and the benefits that the outputs provide, are the Outcomes. Let’s see this through one more common day example: You were assigned a project of building your dog's house in the backyard by your kids. The Output would be the house you build- in your kids’ favourite colour and design - meeting the quality requirements and within the budget your wife allocated. The Outcome, however, will be delighted kids, a proud wife, and a happy dog. If you were to solely work towards the inputs from your kids (who probably don’t have the experience or the understanding of complete requirement) to build the house, you might end up with a house that is neither likeable by your kids upon completion nor feasible for the dog to stay in.

Hence, it is important to think not only about the output but also the outcome of the projects you undertake. This would help you and your team think about the final features as well as the benefits, and you will be able to lead your clients towards successful projects, resulting in customer satisfaction/delight/loyalty (or any other romanticised synonym of the phrase).

Every time you initiate a project, it is important to formally note down not only expected outputs but also desired outcomes. This helps motivate the team to look for the best practices to carry out an activity and also constantly think about improvement in processes to refine the results. They will continuously come up with regular suggestions and feedback.

An organisation performs its best when members of the team feel valuable and believe that they can bring a positive change with their activities. Motivating them to align their activities towards the greater good will result in long term benefits. One could also look to regularly update the team of the impacts they made with the tasks they carried out- not only about the numbers they crunched, the problems they resolved, or the tasks they completed but also about how it made the customer feel, for example, what was the final outcome of refurbishment of a machine on a manufacturing line that produced critical equipment for hospitals or how a quick identification and supply of critical spare part saved someone's life!

Results and Numbers are great- they inspire and motivate, but they become much more when they start telling a story.

P.S. If Henry Ford had worked solely on customer requirements, we would still be travelling to office on horses, albeit faster ones!

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