Activities, Outputs and Outcomes! Oh My!

February 3, 2009 by Stacey Barr

As practitioners in the Land of Performance Measurement, we have our own version of Dorothy’s ‘Lions and tigers and bears’ in the Land of Oz.

We have activities, outputs and outcomes. Creatures that seem so much more frightening than they truly are, and mostly because we don’t really understand whether and how we are supposed to measure them.

The truth is, we should measure all three.

But don’t go skipping down the yellow brick road too quickly, measuring every activity, output and outcome you make friends with along the way.

Let’s look first at the relationship between the three, because it’s in that relationship that you’ll find the answer to how to measure them meaningfully.

Outcomes Are Your Ultimate Performance.

Outcomes are important to measure because it’s important that we deliberately define and focus on fulfilling our purpose. Every team should have a purpose, otherwise their talents and energy and the resources they consume are wasted.

The trick with measuring outcomes though, is you have to start with your customer or stakeholder – those people that use your service or product. Only they can define the outcomes that really matter enough to measure.

Outputs Are The Drivers Of Outcome Performance.

Outputs are also important to measure, because they are the drivers of the outcomes. The better your outputs align with your stakeholder outcomes, the better those outcomes will be achieved. It has to be a conscious connection.

Measuring outputs is often easier than outcomes, because unlike outcomes, you can directly see what you are delivering to your customers or stakeholders. And if you can see it, you can measure it. But a word of caution: still take the time to define what those outputs are before you choose measures.

Activities Are The Drivers Of Output Performance.

Activities are also worth measuring, because how well you perform those activities drives the quality of outputs you produce and how well those outputs can create the outcomes your customers and stakeholders want and need.

But the important things to measure about activities are not how much of them you are doing, but how well you are doing them. And not all activities are worth measuring: only those that have the biggest impact on your outputs and outcomes.

Sketch A Cause-Effect Chain

It’s much easier to visualise and communicate the relationship between activites, outputs and outcomes when you can draw the cause-effect relationships between them. With my clients, I use a tool called a Results Map, but you can use a simple flowchart to get started. And before you can click your heels together three times, you’ll be on your way to a more meaningful balance of performance measures!

YOUR CHALLENGE:
Take a look at a sample of measures your organisation has now, and work out which are tracking activities, which are tracking outputs and which are tracking outcomes. See if there is a sensible cause-effect relationship between them.

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