Weeknote 19 – Outcomes vs outputs

I’ve worked both in-house and as a consultant now. One of the main differences, I was reminded of last week, is the focus on outputs as a consultant and outcomes when working in-house.

As a consultant I felt unfulfilled because I often didn’t see any meaningful change from my work. Obviously this is not always the case, but as Harry Trimble reminded us last week, services don’t always get made.

That led me to take in-house roles because I wanted to be part of implementing changes to services that had real outcomes for people. Of course what I realised is change is hard, takes time and its often going to take a lot more than a few PowerPoint decks to see real outcomes from your work.

Obviously it’s not completely binary like that. I definitely threw together a fair few PowerPoint decks in my time in-house that’s for sure. And I’d like to think in all my years as a consultant my work did have some impact!

Setting up Joy has seen me make the move back into consultancy mode and I’ve felt the shift back towards outputs.

I actually work well when the focus is on outputs. I’m a doer. I thrive on being productive, getting things done and ticking them off my list. After a really productive day last week I started thinking about how to get the balance right between the two.

What I don’t want is to get 3 years down the line and think – what has my work really achieved?

I think this is quite easy to do when you’re running your own business. You want to give the client what they need and you always have one eye on where the next piece of work might be coming from.

Obviously there is the usual due diligence of ensuring what you’re producing is useful, the right thing and challenging the client if it isn’t. But I also wondered if there is anything else I can do to avoid falling into the outputs trap.

I have gifted myself a month in April where I won’t be starting any new projects. The first half will be about finishing the work I have on. The second half will be taking some time to reflect on the business and take a step back.

I’m wondering if having some wider strategic aims for the business could help. Areas or the world I want my work to have an impact in that my productive approach to outputs could ladder up to over time.

I’m interested in whether other small business owners have taken this approach so early on. Or if your strategy has emerged over time.

Hopefully Mike’s comment about the azure sea is on point and a good float in the Mediterranean will help bring things into focus.

In the meantime, I’m on the lookout for new projects to start in May. One things I’ve learnt this last few months is what I really love is designing new products and services. I feel like this is where the intersection of brand and service can have the most impact. And most importantly, I want to make things. If you need a hand making something new give me a shout.

If I’m honest neither end of this scale feels like a great place to be for me. So we’re back to getting the balance right.

What I’m keen to avoid with my work through Joy is getting into a cycle of producing outputs for clients then moving onto the next project.




Freelance specialist in user research, service design and brand development. designforjoy.co.uk Previously @wearesnook, @nhsdigital, @wearewithyou.

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Emma Parnell

Emma Parnell

Freelance specialist in user research, service design and brand development. designforjoy.co.uk Previously @wearesnook, @nhsdigital, @wearewithyou.

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