Product teams deliver outcomes, not outputs

Turning ‘Build this’ into ‘Realise that’ at GOV.UK

Steve Messer
3 min readApr 26, 2019

Originally published at on April 26, 2019.

A colleague at Government Digital Service recently told me that they’d adopted objectives and key results (OKRs) in their team, but they were struggling with the objectives (plural) their leadership had set. The objectives just described the things that the leadership team wanted them to do rather than problems to solve. They had been given a list of outputs, not outcomes. This meant the team was finding it hard to buy into the mission and worried they might not explore the problem space enough.

Outputs vs outcomes

An output is a thing which a team produces or does. ‘Build this thing, upgrade this thing, change this thing.’ An outcome is an end result which a team delivers or reaches. ‘Improve this experience, increase this measure, explore this market.’ Setting outputs is easy, we’re all focussed on doing things. But doing things to reach an end result is a bit more complicated; achieving outcomes requires domain expertise, a willingness to explore the problem space, and a culture which supports experimentation.

Take apples as an example. I eat apples because they are tasty and healthy. All apples are…