Q: What’s the difference between “OutPut” and “Outcome”? Aren’t they Interchangeable?
A: The difference between an ‘Output and ‘Outcome’ is significant. Processes deliver OUTPUTS (in other words, what pops out of the end of a process is an output). Here’s an example: The Process = Design a bicycle. Output = A bicycle. An OUTCOME, on the other hand, is a level of performance or achievement. It may be associated with the process, but outcomes imply quantification of performance. Back to our bicycle for a moment: Output = A bicycle. Outcome = More muscle mass. Because it’s about performance levels, you can’t get your hands on an Outcome. (But you can draw it on a graph!)
Why should I care?
If you’re working with a customer to improve their organization or performance, you need to know the difference so that you can describe the ‘outcomes’ you want to achieve. Furthermore, you need to quantify those ‘outcomes’ and track progress over time in order to determine what processes were successful. Simply put: outputs impact outcomes. They are managed differently as well.
The mechanism for managing outputs and outcomes is clear – projects deliver outputs, programs deliver outcomes. A project delivers one or more business outputs whereas a program is implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes. Below is an illustration of the strategic context of benefits realization within a program (with an example).