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The difference between a target, an output, and an outcome

targets Targets, outcomes, and outputs

In human life, we measure much of any person's worth by what they achieve, after they have achieved it. In some sense, targets, outputs, and outcomes all do this. Well, then why should we know their difference? What makes matters worse, is that there are as much definitions on each as there are authors who write on the topic. Now, the reality is that in Org™, we do all our work in either a repetitive or a non-repetitive way. Cyclic processes repeat a known past whilst projects enter an unknown future. Therefore, we must measure their produce in dissimilar ways. This means that the way in which we grasp what we get will differ to the way in which we grasp the impact of that. If so, then the things we measure should have different names. And, that is why we must know their difference.

In orgamatics, we aim to find scientific ways to best grasp how we can find the resources, absorb the intelligence, and foster the relationships, that we need, so that we can produce relevant results. So, to us, it is key to know the difference between targets, outputs, and outcomes. But, to do this we must first know what each one means.

...an output target predicts future performance through analyzing past efficiency, whilst an outcome predicts future relevance.

derek hendrikz

What is an output?

An output is what we deliver as result of a process cycle. When we forecast that, it becomes a target. So, an output is the result of a process. We can predict an output with reasonable accuracy, since it repeats a known past, and since we can learn immensely from the past. Where people have perfect knowledge on the process, they will have perfect knowledge on its outputs - if there is no unknown factor that disrupts a known process cycle.

It is important to note that an output shows ability and not completion. Processes do not begin or end, they cycle. Therefore, all that an output tells you, is what the ability of a process is, at a specific point in time. It is the result of process efficiency.

E.g., When a lioness teaches her cubs to hunt, she will take them to mice and grasshoppers, until they can do so with ease. As they become more able she will take them to larger animals, such as small antelope. Later, she might teach them to take down a zebra, and who knows, eventually a buffalo. Now, the lesson here is that there is no difference in the core process of hunting a lizard and that of hunting a buffalo, except that the lion's ability has increased with the latter hunt. A process that produced a lizard now produces a buffalo, without adding resources. This is the essence of efficiency.

What is an outcome?

An outcome shows the effect of what we have done. E.g., If you have an IT company that gives infrastructure for others who will use it to create communities where they can interact, then you will ignite algorithms that produce cyclic processes, which will enable your infrastructure. The functionality of your infrastructure is your output. Whether people use it, and whether you make money from it, is your outcome.

Where outputs create efficiency, outcomes create effectiveness. Outputs show whether we are doing things in the right way and outcomes show whether we are doing the right things.

As mentioned, outputs are easy to measure, whilst it is extremely difficult to measure outcomes. This is so since an outcome is often no more than a perception of those that use your product or service. And, even with the best ICT, it is still really difficult to predict how people will perceive things.

What is a target?

A target is a quantifiable estimate of what an output or outcome will be. In orgamatics we distinct outputs from outcomes since they aim to measure different things, and, their results have unique implications. When we create an output target, we aim to forecast the probability that something will happen. This is measurable, since we know what a process is likely to do. When we create an outcome target, we aim to forecast the impact that something will have. This is difficult, since we cannot predict what the effect of a product or service is on those who use it. People are simply not that predictable. So, an output target will help us to grasp the level at which we can perform, and an outcome target will help us to grasp how relevant our performance must be. Therefore, we can measure outputs against operational targets and outcomes against strategic targets. In so, output targets measure efficiency and targets for outcomes measure effectiveness. In my blogpost: "Creating targets for a process construct", I explain how we create and cascade targets throughout Org.

How do targets, outputs, and outcomes relate to each other?

A simple answer to this, is that we quantify and forecast both outputs and outcomes through targets. We also measure the success of both outputs and outcomes against their targets.

There are several outcome models that depict the relationship between outputs and outcomes in a linear way. In other words, they assume a direct relationship where inputs convert to action, which produces outputs, which delivers outcomes. A usual example would be somethings such as the building of a house. Defenders of this school would say that the inputs are money, materials, and human resources. Then there is a project plan that devises the action that we must take to build the house. This creates a house, which is then an output. If the intent is to sell the house, then the outcome will be that we sell the house at a competitive price. In orgamatics, our view is that this is an oversimplification of a vastly complex relationship. It might work well with a production project, such as building a house, but the organisations I work with have a much more complex interaction between what Org does and how those who uses its end products or services perceives and values it.

In orgamatics we hold that outputs begin in purpose, and that outcomes ignite through intent. The former defines performance and the latter ensures relevance. We measure the results of performance through operational output targets, whilst we measure relevance against strategic outcomes. In other words, Org has several target sets, that we define and calculate in unlike ways. If I must depict this relationship in a linear value chain, the it will be as follows:

Outputs vs Outcomes Value Chain

However, if I add a few units of complexity to this, then it will be as follows:

Outputs vs Outcomes Process Flow

In precis, an output target predicts future performance through analyzing past efficiency, whilst an outcome predicts future relevance.

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