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Agile focuses on outcomes, not outputs

This article was based on the interview with Dan Gallagher of Slalom by Greg Kihlström for The Agile Brand with Greg Kihlström podcast. Listen to the original episode here:

Agile focuses on outcomes, not outputs. This is a key principle that underpins Agile principles and the methods based on them, and distinguishes it from traditional project management approaches. In the podcast, Dan Gallagher from Slalom emphasizes the importance of understanding why people use products and how Agile teams should align their efforts with the desired outcomes.

When evaluating the success of an Agile transformation, many organizations tend to focus on metrics such as velocity, story points per sprint, burn down, and burn up. While these metrics are useful for measuring outputs and efficiency, they do not necessarily reflect the true value that customers seek from a product.

The speaker highlights the fact that customers do not use a product simply because they want to use it, but because they believe it will help them achieve a specific outcome. Customers are loyal to the outcome they expect to get from a product, not to the product itself. Therefore, Agile teams should prioritize delivering outcomes rather than just focusing on delivering outputs.

To illustrate this point, the speaker uses the analogy of a plane flying from New York to Los Angeles. The plane’s ultimate outcome is to arrive safely in LA at a certain time. However, due to various factors such as wind patterns and the rotation of the earth, the plane is off course about 97% of the time. Nevertheless, the plane constantly course corrects to stay aligned with the desired outcome.

Similarly, Agile allows teams to course correct and prioritize the right things by creating incremental moments to assess progress and make adjustments. At the end of each sprint, teams can evaluate whether they are on track to achieve the desired outcome and make necessary adjustments to their approach.

However, the speaker points out that many teams lose sight of the outcome throughout the development process. They may start with a clear understanding of the outcome but then become focused on delivering outputs without considering whether those outputs are truly aligned with the desired outcome.

To address this issue, the speaker suggests that teams should start by identifying the assumptions they are making about the desired outcome and the path to achieving it. By doing so, teams can validate these assumptions regularly and ensure that they are building the right things. This approach allows teams to prioritize based on validated assumptions rather than fixed ideas of business value.

Agile focuses on outcomes, not outputs. Prioritizing business value in Agile is essential for ensuring that teams are not just building efficiently, but also building the right things. By adopting a continuous product discovery approach, teams can continuously assess the potential impact of features and make informed decisions about prioritization. This shift in mindset and approach will ultimately lead to the development of features that drive the business forward and deliver meaningful value to customers.

House of the Customer by Greg Kihlström is now available.
House of the Customer by Greg Kihlström

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