Impact, Outcome and Output

As I alluded to in the previous post, one of the changes in thinking, and in particular language, for me recently is the idea of impact. Specifically that impact is different from outcome which is itself different from output. I’ve differentiated outcome from output for some time, as have others, but I believe impact is a further step in understanding how we approach change.

To relate the three ideas to each other, I would say that:

Outputs create outcomes which have impact.

This mapping also ties in nicely to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle model that I have referenced before.

Outputs (or sometimes activities) are the things that we do in order to achieve something. They provide the details about what gets done, such as specific practices or implementation details. In the Golden Circle, they are the WHAT.

Outcomes are the future state we hope to achieve by completing the outputs. They provide the details about what goals we hope to achieve, such as end results or behaviours. In the Golden Circle, they are the HOW.

Impacts are the tendencies or dispositions of an outcome. They give an indication of whether the future state is a positive or negative one, without limiting the scope of what that future state might be.  In the Golden Circle, they are the WHY.

As Simon Sinek recommends with the Golden Circle, we should always Start with Why, and thus when implementing any process or product it is useful to know what impact we want to have. I have realised that the notions of Flow, Value and Capability that I refer to as part of Kanban Thinking are actually the primary impacts that I hope that a Kanban System will achieve.

  • A positive impact on flow might be one which results in earlier and smoother delivery and might be seen in a reduction in lead time or variability.
  • A positive impact in value might be one which results in a better return on investment or improved margins and might be seen in improved economic outcomes
  • A positive impact in capability might be one which results in better business performance and might be seen in improved quality, throughput, or customer and employee satisfaction.

Another recent and related influence has been Geoffrey Moore’s Escape Velocity, where he talks about a hierarchy of powers.

  • Category Power relates to the relative demand for a class of product.
  • Company Power relates to the organisation’s relative position within a category.
  • Market Power relates to the relative company power within a specific market segment.
  • Offer Power relates to the relative demand for a specific product.
  • Execution Power relates to the relative ability to outperform competition.

This has got me thinking about how impact might be the effect a change has on one or more of these powers. While flow is more aligned with execution power, value and capability are aligned to the other powers.

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Outcomes and Sync Steps

I met up with Jean Tabaka last week for a coffee and we chatted over various things, including Lean, Kanban, “The Don”, Tufte, and Systems Thinking. One of the other areas was around the origins and original intents of Scrum. Jean mentioned an early paper(*) by Jeff Sutherland, written before the current terminology became standard, where he described his process in a very simple way

  1. Decide and agree on an Outcome, in terms of working software
  2. Use daily Sync Steps to decide how to best achieve the outcome

Since we had that discussion (which also touched on GTD), I have found that this a great a way of describing the essence of Agility. Inevitably it has also triggered thoughts on ways of comparing and contrasting Kanban with more traditional Agile methods such as Scrum.

In a Scrum based approach, the Outcome is defined by the Sprint Goal, with the Sprint Plan being a means of making a commitment to the Outcome. There is a single Outcome, which is constrained by the length of the Sprint. The Sync Steps are provided by the Daily Stand Up Meeting.

In a Kanban based approach, the Outcomes are the limited work items in the system. There can me multiple Outcomes in progress at a time, but the WIP limits constrain the Outcomes. Planning, and as a result any commitment (or SLA) on the Outcomes is done per Outcome, and Just In Time. The Sync Steps are usually provided by the same Daily Stand Up Meeting, but could also be formed by other forms of Cadence.

So both Scrum and Kanban focus on team Outcomes, with regular Sync Steps to achieve the Outcomes. The way in which those Outcomes and Sync Steps are managed are different.

(*) Unfortunately, I don’t have a reference to this paper. If you recognise it, please let me know!

Update: Jeff actually calls them SynchSteps. References can be found in this 2001 paper, and in early emails. He also refers to Outcomes as Mutations.

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