Fred Kouwenberg, Sales Director at Logicalis SMC, looks at the distinction between the output of our activities and the outcome, arguing that customers are not solely focused on delivering projects on time and within budget. The bigger picture is far more important.
Much of what we do in business, and particularly IT, is focused on output. We need to deliver on time, within budget and to specification; get those right and we are doing good business - tick the boxes, sign it off and move to the next job. For me, and no doubt many readers, this output driven focus started at school. I would come home with my excellent grades (of course), and get a pat on the back along with a financial reward. I’d be paraded as a great example of a hard working student – and of course it made my parents look good! All very nice, but getting good grades and looking good wasn’t my parents’ ultimate goal. They wanted me to understand that hard work enabled me to develop myself in order to get a good job and a secure future. They were focused on the outcome, where the output (my good grades) was regarded as a means and motivation to get there.
Strictly speaking, output is about the immediate measurable result of an activity or service, usually expressed in figures (number of people, hours, savings, etc.). Outcome is about the (long term) results of those activities and services, expressed in, for example, improved or changed knowledge, attitude or behaviour amongst people. A successful project is, therefore, in no way a guarantee of ultimate success. A successful ITSM or CRM implementation (output) doesn’t mean customers will receive better service (outcome). It’s only a means to an end. Let me move closer to home. At present we are talking a lot about IT governance and IT4IT with CIOs and CTOs – in essence that means automating IT processes as much as possible, preferably using best practice models for ITSM, DevOps, Continuous Delivery and Release Automation. But again the ultimate goal is not to implement a new product or automate as much as possible (the output). The real interest is in the outcome. If CIOs and CTOs can exercise tight governance over the IT landscape and IT vendors, they don’t need to be so involved in day-to-day IT operations. And that means they can shift their attention to business innovation, reshaping the IT department as a service provider rather than a box installer and fixer.
That’s where the true added value is; in the change achieved as a result of the output.
This brings me to the Simon Sinek Golden Circle theory – something my colleague Chris Gabriel brought to our attention here back in 2013. The principle is the same: it’s not about WHAT you do, but WHY you do it.
To borrow Sinek’s analogy, Martin Luther King didn’t declare: “I have a plan” - we all know he had a dream.
It’s the ‘why’, or the vision, that drives us. It’s not that we only want to deliver projects within the specified conditions; we want to change a part of our customers’ world. And if they know that, that’s why they appreciate us. They’re not just buying a product or service; they’re buying our enthusiasm, belief and ability to understand and share their vision of the future. Ultimately they’re right, because what determines the real success of change is not just achieving an output, but realising the desired outcome.