Outcomes Over Outputs: A book summary

In Outcomes Over Output, Joshua Seiden advocates for a shift from the traditional output-driven approach to a more outcome-centered mindset in product development. He scrutinizes the inflexibility of adhering to predefined outputs which often don’t align with the evolving needs and expectations of users.

This resonates well with a notion shared by Jeff Gothelf, author of Lean UX, “Our goal is not to create a deliverable, it’s to change something in the world — to create an outcome.”

Before we delve deeper, let’s clarify the distinction between outputs and outcomes:

  • Outputs refer to the tangible, direct artifacts or deliverables produced through efforts. They are quantifiable and can be easily measured but don’t reflect the value or impact created for users or stakeholders. For instance, developing a certain number of features or completing tasks are examples of outputs.
  • Outcomes, on the other hand, are the changes or benefits that occur as a result of the outputs. They reflect the value delivered to users and are about changing behavior or impression. For instance, improved user satisfaction, increased engagement, or achieving a significant milestone are examples of outcomes.

Outcomes and other frameworks

Seiden’s emphasis on outcomes aligns well with modern strategic thinking, mirroring the ethos of flexible planning seen in other frameworks like Goldratt’s Strategy & Tactics Trees. Seiden critiques the traditional approach of chasing high-level, ambiguous goals, stating, “These impact-level targets are too complex to be useful to our teams.”

For instance, consider a goal of increasing user engagement on a digital platform. In a traditional output-centric approach, the focus might be on deploying a set number of new features.

However, Seiden would advocate for a more outcome-centric approach, where the focus shifts to the actual impact of those features on user engagement levels. As a Strategy & Tactics Tree framing the strategic outcome would be to enhance user engagement, and the tactics would specify actions like optimizing the user interface, introducing interactive elements, or launching engagement-boosting campaigns. Each tactic is aligned with the outcome, and the progress is iteratively validated to ensure the desired outcome is being moved towards.

Redefining the MVP

The concept of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is pivotal in modern product development, particularly in agile and lean methodologies. However, misconceptions abound, and Seiden provides a refreshing perspective that aligns with the ethos of adaptive planning. Here’s a breakdown of his insights and the broader implications.

Shifting the MVP Paradigm

Traditionally, MVP is often misconstrued as the first full version of a product. Seiden dismantles this notion by stating, “An MVP is NOT version 1.0 of your product.” This distinction is crucial as it shifts the focus from delivering a set of predefined features to learning and validation.

Seiden advises readers to view the MVP as, “the smallest thing you can do or the smallest thing you can make to learn if your hypothesis is correct.” This reflects a learning-centric approach where the primary goal is to validate assumptions and gather insights with the least effort.

Embracing a Leaner Approach

The redefined MVP is about lean validation—testing the critical assumptions with minimal resources. It’s about discovering what resonates with the users and what doesn’t before investing heavily in development. This approach encourages collecting early feedback from real users. It’s not about creating a polished product, but about understanding user needs and preferences.

Planning Adaptively

Seiden’s take on MVP reinforces the importance of iterative development. By starting with a minimal viable product (as defined above!), teams can learn, adapt, and iterate, thereby reducing risks and ensuring that the product evolves in line with user needs and market demands. The emphasis is on creating short feedback loops to continuously learn from user interactions and make informed decisions. This dynamic approach allows for real-time adjustments and fosters a culture of continuous improvement.


Seiden’s perspective on MVP promotes a culture of experimentation, learning, and continuous improvement in the realm of product development.

  • Risk Mitigation: By validating assumptions early, teams can identify potential pitfalls and make necessary adjustments, mitigating risks associated with product development.

  • Resource Optimization: This understanding of MVP promotes a judicious use of resources—focusing on what’s essential for learning and validation rather than over-investing in untested features.

  • Fostering a Learning Culture: The redefinition of MVP underscores a shift towards a learning-oriented culture, where every stage of product development is an opportunity for learning and growth.

Seiden’s perspective on MVP not only challenges the traditional notions surrounding product development but also sets the stage for a more profound organizational shift. The principles that underpin a redefined MVP—learning, validation, and adaptive planning—can also drive a broader change in organizational focus. This change emphasizes not just delivering features (outputs) but ensuring these features lead to desired changes in user behavior and satisfaction (outcomes). With this foundation, we can explore how organizations can shift their focus to prioritize outcomes over outputs, leading to more meaningful and impactful product development.

Shifting Organizational Focus

Seiden observes a common organizational tendency to structure around products or channels rather than focusing on behaviors or customer journeys, which often leads to a priority on outputs over outcomes. Here’s how Seiden articulates this shift and its implications:

Identifying Structural Pitfalls

Seiden notes, “so often, our organizations are set up around product or channel vs. behavior or customer journey. And when we do that, we’re implicitly de-prioritizing outcomes and prioritizing outputs.” In the realm of technology initiatives, this translates to an overemphasis on traditional metrics like features delivered, often at the expense of fostering new behaviors or enhancing user experiences.

Transcending Traditional Metrics

The shift Seiden advocates for involves transcending traditional metrics and instead, focusing on new behaviors encouraged by the work. It’s a transition from output-based planning, which often faces challenges with prioritization due to a disconnect from value delivery, to an outcome-based approach where success metrics are established upfront. This approach encourages continuous assessment and iteration, enabling teams to realign efforts based on performance reviews and pivot when necessary to ensure value delivery.

Addressing Technical Debt

While not discussed explicitly, Seiden implies that addressing technical debt is crucial but should be tied to the broader goal of enabling new capabilities. The management of technical debt is not an end in itself but a means to facilitate better outcomes, both for users and the organization.

Clarifying Intention

Seiden emphasizes the importance of having clear intentions by stating, “In outcome-based work, teams need to be really clear about the value they are trying to create…” This shift necessitates establishing clear hypotheses and success measures before embarking on a project. Seiden shares a narrative about establishing hypotheses and measures of success, which if proven to be working, prompts looking for other areas of the business to work on. If not, it raises the priority and necessitates another attempt at it.

Mechanism of Action

By articulating a mechanism of action, teams make explicit what traditionally remains implicit in planning. For instance, stating: “By adding a personalized recommendation feature, we expect to enhance user engagement, leading to an increase in the average time spent on the platform and a 10% uptick in monthly active users,” provides a testable hypothesis.

  • Action: Adding a personalized recommendation feature.
  • Expected Outcomes: Enhanced user engagement, increased average time spent on the platform, and a 10% uptick in monthly active users.
  • Leading Indicators:
    • User Engagement Metrics: Interaction rates with the recommendation feature, click-through rates, and the rate of return visits can be early indicators of whether the personalized recommendation feature is engaging users as intended.
    • Average Session Duration: Any noticeable change in the average time spent on the platform post-implementation can provide immediate feedback on the feature’s impact.
    • User Feedback: Collecting user feedback on the new feature can provide early insights into its acceptance and effectiveness.

By identifying leading indicators, teams can monitor features in a more iterative evaluation approach. This enables quicker adjustments based on data-driven insights, ensuring that efforts remain aligned with delivering value, both in the short-term and long-term.

Transitioning to Outcome-Driven Planning

Seiden stresses the importance of transitioning from a feature-centric to an outcome-driven planning model to ensure alignment between the work done and the value it delivers. This transition helps overcome the challenges of prioritization that come with a feature-based planning model. As Seiden reflects, “the feature-based way of planning work had made it hard to prioritize work. This is a basic problem of output-based planning. How can you figure out what features are important if you aren’t sure which features will deliver value?”

Challenges of Feature-Centric Planning

In a feature-centric planning model, the focus is on delivering predefined features without explicitly measuring their impact or value to users. This can result in a disconnect between the features developed and the actual needs of the users. The challenge of prioritization arises as teams struggle to determine which features are crucial for delivering value, leading to potential misallocation of resources and efforts.

Embracing Outcome-Driven Planning

Seiden suggests a shift to an outcome-driven planning model as a solution to these challenges. In this model, the focus shifts from roadmapping features to instead target the outcomes we are intended to achieve. By articulating the desired outcomes upfront, teams can better prioritize work based on the value it’s expected to deliver.

Benefits of Outcome-Driven Planning

  • Improved Prioritization: By focusing on outcomes, teams can prioritize features based on their potential impact, rather than being driven by a feature list.
  • Alignment with User Needs: Outcome-driven planning promotes a user-centric approach, encouraging prioritizing based on user value.
  • Resource Optimization: This approach promotes judicious use of resources by focusing on developing the slices of features that are most likely to drive desired outcomes.
  • Enhanced Value Delivery: Ultimately, outcome-driven planning enhances value delivery by ensuring that features developed contribute to achieving meaningful outcomes, leading to improved user satisfaction and business growth.

Transitioning to an outcome-driven approach not only aligns product development with user needs but also lays the foundation for a shift in mindset. It paves the way for teams to think more deeply about the problems they aim to solve, rather than jumping to predefined solutions. This brings us to another vital aspect of Seiden’s discourse — moving from articulating solutions to articulating problems.

Understanding and Articulating Problems First

Seiden underscores a shift from a traditional solution-centric approach to a more problem-centric paradigm. Here’s a breakdown of this transformation.

Understanding the Problem

Before jumping to solutions, understand and articulate the problem at hand. This involves identifying the pain points, challenges, or opportunities that the project aims to address. A well-defined problem provides a clear direction and a shared understanding for the team. Analyzing baseline data helps understand the current state and sets a benchmark against which progress can be measured.

Developing Hypothesis-Driven Solutions

Once the problem is understood, formulate hypotheses about how they might solve the problem or take advantage of an opportunity. These hypotheses help maintain focus on achieving the desired outcomes. Hypothesis-driven development encourages a culture of experimentation and learning. It’s about validating assumptions, learning from failures, and iterating based on feedback and results.

Shifting the Intake Paradigm

Traditionally, requests in project management often come in the form of feature requests. However, Seiden advocates for a shift where requests are framed in terms of problems to be solved. The quote, “Instead of requesting features, ‘the ticket submission template asked for the problem, the hypotheses, baseline data, and what they hoped to achieve,’” exemplifies this shift.

This problem-centric approach promotes a focus on outcomes rather than outputs. It challenges teams to think about the impact and value they aim to deliver, rather than getting bogged down with feature lists.


  • Better Alignment: This approach ensures that everyone involved has a clear understanding of the why behind the project, fostering alignment among teams.
  • Increased Flexibility and Innovation: By focusing on problems rather than predetermined solutions, teams are empowered to explore innovative solutions and adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Measurable Impact: It promotes a culture of measurement and continuous improvement, where success is evaluated based on the actual impact and the achievement of desired outcomes.

By encouraging a problem-centric approach, Seiden sets the stage for a more thoughtful, outcome-oriented, and adaptive project management paradigm that aligns with modern agile and lean methodologies. There’s more on this problem rather than solution-oriented approach in Design In Practice.


Outcomes Over Output encourages transforming how teams think and work, echoing sentiments I’ve shared in Planning, not plans. This evolution towards solutions that deliver customer value and business growth paves the way for a more impactful and customer-centric product development process. Seiden elaborates, “Expressing the change you seek in terms of outcomes allows you to build change programs that very specifically target the behaviors you want to promote.”

Additional insights include the importance of observation and measurability in managing outcomes, the challenge of shifting thinking from features to outcomes, and the separation of responsibility necessitating a tight working relationship for effective outcome management.

At only 86 pages, it’s a quick read. I hope this summary serves as a reference for you. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend reading the book.


This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

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