Product Development

Why it’s time to transition from outputs to outcomes

Building features shouldn't be the real endpoint for product teams.

November 19, 2020
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When it comes to product management cannon, It’s arguable that output or feature-based roadmapping is becoming a dated framework. But why? For many seasoned operators, it seems like limiting product work in order to deliver on big bets such as feature A and B may not always “move the needle” so to say. Perhaps this approach is feeling less pragmatic and akin to “if you build it they will come,” bringing about a false sense of certainty. 

The limits of output-based planning

We all feel better and assured when there’s a concrete plan, often being the first step on the path to delivery. You check off all the usual boxes: stakeholders are informed, features prioritized, and all needed GTM resources are itemized out. That would be an ideal world but we know that’s probably not going to happen without a few surprises. What’s often missing is how product teams can be much more responsive and aligned with lifting metrics tied directly to business outcomes. Knowing that user needs evolve, changing market dynamics are at play, and risk or opportunities arising, planned work can lead to disappointing results if it’s too rigid (and siloed to just building features). And the real tragedy? Teams executing on solutions that no longer meet the users’ needs and spending months working on something that is no longer a priority.

Switching to outcome-based planning

It takes a bit of patience and coordination. We believe it's worth the extra effort. Here are some practical tips to keep in mind for the transition. 

Define and share key business outcomes you want 

With that, the product teams can be empowered to test new ideas and run experiments. Their goal would be identify input metrics that act like a proxy to the desired outcomes, and find ways to create lift.

Align on opportunities first and then sort out solutions

It’s important to show stakeholders all the opportunities available to achieve that outcome and decide what to narrow in on. With that built-in alignment, teams can now do a deeper dive on highlighting all the trade-offs associated with each respective solution instead of rushing into execution mode. 

De-risk your solutions

At this point, we believe it’s a great habit to start running small tests to sort out risks that could cause delays. Good questions to keep in mind include:

  • Could we build this in the allotted time?
  • Does it scale? 
  • Could we figure out how desirable this is?
  • Is this solution easy to use or introduce?
  • Are users willing to pay more for it?
  • What’s the best way to test this?

Monitor outcomes regularly 

Teams are often encouraged to see how their solutions are impacting target outcomes in weekly check-ins. The frequency and transparency of any type of dashboard can come in handy to quickly course-correct and showcase progress to the wider team. 

It goes without saying this is an investment in terms of coordination and communication. Ultimately, If done correctly, this can lead to a higher-quality product that can have a direct impact on business goals. It’s a win-win situation.