Why you should map outcomes to impact metrics

Posted on February 14, 2022.

Last summer I published a post defining the terms impact, outcome, output and KPI’s. Much of the OKR conversation lately has been about deciding what is a good outcome to use as your key result. Given our customers do so many things in our products, how do we know which behavior is the one we should optimize for this quarter? Next quarter?

Put your outcomes in context

An outcome is a measure of human behavior. These behaviors don’t happen in a vacuum. Something happens before each one. Something happens after. As you set out to determine this quarter’s key results, consider creating a user journey map or user story map for the product or experience you have control over as a way to visualize the paths your customers take. Once you have the various journeys mapped, start consolidating them into one tree that looks like this:

Each step in the map connects a customer behavior to another one, until we reach company metrics.

In this exercise you are visualizing the explicit connection between what customers do in the system and how the company makes money. You’re doing this without mentioning any kind of specific features or launches. The conversation you are mapping is focused exclusively on the customer, their actual behavior in the product and the various ways that impacts the organization’s impact metrics – the high level measures of the health of the business. 

Customer journeys aren’t always obvious or known

Many teams aren’t able to reliably predict specific customer paths through the product. This can be a result of a lack of access to data, a lack of data or too much distance between the team and the customer. If you find yourself in this situation you have at least two options:

  1. Add a curious data scientist or business analyst to the team. Find someone who does know the numbers and ask them to join you while you do this exercise. This should be someone who not only knows how to access the data but can actually interpret it with an eye for pattern matching. This type of individual can point out the potential risks with the user journeys you’ve mapped.

  2. Guess. Yep, that’s right. You know your product and your customer well enough to take a guess. You won’t be 100% wrong. You’ll likely not be 100% right either but it gives you a direction to explore. Once you start your discovery work to improve your chosen outcomes you’ll identify the gaps in your guesses quickly. Your goal is to bias towards action. Too many teams wait for permission and access to data before doing this work. If you’re in this situation, don’t wait. Take a guess and start running experiments. You’ll course correct soon enough. 

Prioritizing with evidence

Once you have mapped your outcomes to your impact metrics, you’re ready to prioritize your team’s work. This part of the exercise is best served by having your stakeholders involved in the conversation. Structure it this way:

  1. Ask, discuss and agree on the corporate and product strategy for the coming 2-3 quarters.
  2. Share the exact number of teams available to do the work for this same time frame.
  3. Based on the total number of teams available and the scope of influence they have over the product, work with your stakeholders to identify an equal number of outcomes from your map that support the corporate strategy and are a high priority. These outcomes should be customer behaviors your team(s) can influence. Because there is an explicit number of teams available and many possibilities visualized for the leadership team, a tough but specific decision is made to support a defined set of outcomes.
  4. Write your Objective and Key Results statement using the outcomes chosen for your team and submit to leadership for approval. 

Aligning teams and stakeholders on outcomes

This exercise paints a clear picture of how to positively impact the success of the company. It removes any meaningful conversation around features and instead focuses both team and stakeholders on changing customer behaviors. When the teams have an approved set of outcomes to work towards they can write meaningful, relevant and achievable goals using OKRs.