Hey What’s That Drawing You Put On LinkedIn Mean?

outcomes > outputs

From where I sit, the Orchestrator and the Cartoonist have a lot in common. At the highest level, they’re both guiding disparate audiences, they both rely on finesse, and they both face criticisms of “I don’t get what they’re doing” or “well, ANYONE could do that.”

The cartoon accompanying this article was posted on LinkedIn last week. I drew it to illustrate a principle that’s been on my mind lately. The cartoon was intentionally simple and a little vague. (From an Orchestration standpoint, this causes viewers to project onto the drawings, and that enables conversations. My goal, whether I’m doodling on a napkin over lunch or graphic recording for a retrospective, is always to provoke an interpretation — not dictate one.)

HOWEVER, since more than one person has asked, I’ll suspend my own rules and tell you where I was coming from with this one.

(For the sake of clarity, when referring to what I’ve drawn & posted, I’ll call it “my drawing”. When referring to what the characters in “my drawing” have done/produced, I’ll say “doodle” and “outputs.”)

In my drawing, the person producing the work and the person consuming the work… are the same person. So the trick with my drawing isn’t in the single cat doodle — or the pile of badly-scribbled “outputs.” We want to look at the characters themselves.

The first character has a drawing they are pleased with. The outcome of the doodle is that they are pleased. A desirable outcome has been reached.

The second character has a lot of output — several doodles. The character is well-equipped with two pencils. But the character seems harried and dissatisfied, despite the volume of outputs.

Any JIRA administrator you know has probably had to stare down the output police. When I think of some of the metrics I’ve been asked to pull out of JIRA, and how perfectly meaningless they are at a macro level, I think of an image like my drawing. When the measures of success are “output” (e.g. lines of code, number of JIRA issues closed, number of story points completed, etc) and not “outcome” (e.g. “sales in division X were up 4% year over year”, or “cart abandonment is down .5% this week”) then outputs supplant outcomes. Outcomes end up being “JIRA issue creation is up 40%” or “our code base tripled in size in the last year.” These outcomes are bummers on every practical level.

This thinking is all wrapped up in the idea that outcomes are more important than outputs. This idea can be expressed as “outcomes > outputs.” And that’s what the drawing I put on LinkedIn means.