Posted on May 15, 2013 by

We need to focus on outcomes

Once I decided I should write a blog the next question I had is what my first post would be. Should I focus on a charter, a “what is” definition or something which sets the scene?

Then I took a step back and thought, maybe I should think about what I am looking to achieve and the benefits I am looking to realize by achieving these outcomes.

That sounded like a good idea……

Now as you read this you are probably thinking that this is obvious, why wouldn’t you do that. Well you are probably right but yet it always surprises me when organisations undertaking change don’t adopt this approach.

In my case I could have fallen into the trap of focusing on the requirements and built my site with no idea of why I was doing it and what outcomes I was looking to realise.

Now I bet that sounds familiar.

So how do we stop this from happening in the real world and what can we learn from other industries to enable us to meet the needs of our customer.

Before we go down a rabbit hole, we need to define what we mean by an outcome and why should we care?

Outcomes

If we look in any dictionary we will find the following definition for an outcome:

something that follows from an action, dispute, situation, etc.; result; consequence”

In our case we are looking to define the outcomes for either us directly or what our stakeholders are looking to achieve, based on the actions (requirements) we will undertake.

So what does an outcome look like?

You should start with a high level outcome which in project terms would be the overall expected outcome of the project:

High Level Outcome example: The desired business outcome from a new ICT system might be reduced operational costs, or improved client service or it might even be something which is a bit more wordy. The key is we have an outcome which our stakeholder wants to achieve.

At this point we should outline some principles for writing and capturing outcomes:

Ensure outcomes are clearly described – This basically means in business-oriented terms, indicating who will benefit – for communication to the project funder and other stakeholders

The outcome must have some form of measurement – Can the outcome be measured or assessed and indicate the intended extent of improvement or target level of performance;

Prioritise your outcomes – Ensure you give each outcome a priority of importance, this allows you to focus on the key outcomes in a defined order.

So now we know what an outcome is can we take this further?

Can we break our outcomes down into focus areas for each of our stakeholders and link these back to our overall outcome? Well for this approach we need to start thinking like designers and start to explore other industries and see how they use outcomes and could we learn from these various approaches.

Bertaux + Iwerks Architects

In my search for other industries who I could learn from I came across a company called Bertaux + Iwerks Architects.

Bertaux + Iwerks Architects in their own words are :Located in the Leather District of downtown Boston, Bertaux+Iwerks Architects serve clients both locally and nationally, undertaking design assignments at scales ranging from large transportation centers and institutional buildings, to mid-sized renovation, expansion, and planning projects.

What makes them unique is that they have made outcome driven design core to their business practice. They use the methodology for re-structuring the design process around what is most critical to stakeholder success at occupancy.

Using their own Outcome Driven Design (ODD) framework they are able to categorise outcomes which focus on different stakeholder perspectives:

  • Emotional Outcomes – This is the human element i.e. feelings and experience for the user/customer
  • Functional Outcomes – The measurable result of activities undertaken by an individual or group
  • Economic Outcomes – These are the more harder outcomes i.e. financial value
  • Process Outcomes – These are the “how” outcomes, they relate to the process being performed

What does this mean for those of us not in the same industry.  Well we can take the same approach and thinking and apply it to our world.

Congratulations you just applied your first bit of design thinking.

Now we have the design bug we could take it further and add some additional outcome categories. This enables us to consider all the other aspects which impact a business:

  • Regulatory Outcomes – These are outcomes which hopefully have a positive effect on your policies and the regulator
  • Offering Outcomes – Outcomes which relate to your product and service offerings

This well defined approach enables us to begin with the end in mind i.e. working our way backwards to the start.

This leads us onto another topic which is traceability.

Traceability

So what is this grand word we hear architects use on a regular basis.

Well in the case of our outcome it simply means can we demonstrate which actions (requirements) are realising what outcomes and their related benefits and how these all relate back to the overall outcome we set out to achieve.

Matrix

Outcome and Benefit Traceability Matrix

matrix 3

Objective, Requirement and Outcome Traceability Matrix – Objective 3 is implemented by 2 requirements and realises 1 outcome

By taking these individual items which are important to different stakeholders and linking them together we create traceability and are able to demonstrate the how,what,where and when is being done to achieve the overall outcome.

The so what moment

So hopefully you have read my post and nodded and thought that is a good idea or even said we should do that. The next question is probably so why should I care and what is in it for me.

You will be pleased to know there are a few reasons:

  1. Bridge a gap – We build a bridge between the business and IT by focusing on the outcomes vs focusing on the requirement. This approach ensures IT deliver the business need but also are speaking to the business in their terms.
  2. Sharpen Decision Making – by clearly understanding what outcomes are important to success, it is much easier to manage scope and remain focused on productive design solutions.
  3. Satisfied Stakeholders – by focusing on the outcomes we are able to focus on the things stakeholders require to be successful. When design solutions grow from this focus is a higher level of satisfaction among owners and stakeholders
  4. Focus on value – The outcome approach makes analysts think about the outcomes which are being realised from the requirement. If we cannot relate the requirement to an outcome is it really a requirement?
  5. Predictable Results – We are able to use the outcome to predict our desired results. The benefit is that we can use outcomes to manage and set expectations in business terms.
  6. Time Travel – I took this one from the team at Bertaux + Iwerks Architects. Every project concludes in outcomes (desired or not). Mentally travel to the future to establish what outcomes are important, before design starts.

I could provide an extensive list but the value hopefully comes through that by focusing on the outcome we are able to ensure what ever we design is produced based on the desired outcomes of our customer.

In a nutshell it means we achieve what the customer had in mind and we can demonstrate along the way which individual outcomes and their actions delivered the stakeholders needs but the key is we did it in business terms.

So did I achieve my outcome?

Now you know what an outcome is and what a benefit is you are probably wondering what outcomes I had for this post.

Well before I wrote this post I wrote a high level outcome for just this post:

High Level Outcome  

Increase likelihood that readers will adopt an outcome driven approach within their own organisations which will hopefully lead to project delivery improvements due to a focus on outcomes.

Benefit

  • Organisations will start to explore the design approach
  • Exposure for my blog (that is more of a personal one)
  • Organisations will start to meet the needs of their stakeholders
  • Communication will be improved between the Business and IT

So now I knew my outcomes and benefits I then wrote my post.

Hopefully this has inspired you to try this in your organisation and focus on why you are doing things and what value is being realised from doing them. 

Remember life started before a requirement and by focusing on the outcomes we ensure we are delivering the right things for our business and importantly our customer.