Outputs and outcomes—A story by Dr. Al Zeitoun

Dr. Al Zeitoun

Last week, Holly Davis, Principal Delivery Manager at Torchbox, talked about complacency, ownership, and project scope. This week, Dr. Al Zeitoun, PgMP, PMI Fellow, and Senior Strategy Director at Siemens, shares the story of when he learned about what really matters when it comes to project success.

You can read all the stories in our latest eBook, Confessions of a Project Manager. Download your free copy here.

I was excited about the opportunity to be in Europe for a variety of reasons—both professionally and business related. So I thought I’d reach out to one of our key customers at the time to see if I could do a check-in visit.

Although it was short notice and most certainly didn’t reflect what a good project manager would normally do—plan ahead and set a clear agenda—somehow the customer went for it.

They came welcomed the opportunity to meet and dedicated the entire morning at their headquarters to discuss and reflect on the work one of our teams did for had done for them as well as looked at the possible path ahead. Sounded promising.

I rearranged my travel plans so I could join the customer on-site where four of the key executives dedicated their time to meet with me that day. And what a meeting it was!

As a good project manager, I prepared for the meeting. I gathered some background info from the team and looked into a previous consulting engagement with the client to see what was assessed and what the recommendations were. I also asked if there were any red flags that I need to be aware of. The answer was none. A great project manager would have gone a little bit deeper and checked if there was any additional feedback from the customer after they signed off on the work deliverables and paid for the services.

A clash of expectations

So what’s the issue? Well, it was one of the toughest meetings I’ve ever had. If you measure success by the completion of deliverables and a customer paying for your services, or an internal team signing off—think again.

During the meeting, it turned out that the customer was actually very unhappy with our consulting engagement. Their reasoning was that the true outcome they had expected was to change the resistance they had been getting from the key stakeholders to the unified system they were implementing. Sure, our deliverables matched what we were contracted to do, yet the true value in the mind of the customer was a totally different outcome.

This was my first big aha moment about the delta between outputs and outcomes.

Although I had experienced that a few times in my career, it wasn’t until this meeting that I was forced to question my view of what success looked like.

Lesson learned: Always define what project success looks like

The key lesson is this: You have to have a joint view of what project success looks like. You need to create that early, and you need to revisit it often. You can call it agility, you can call it the Voice of Customer—whatever works. Regardless of what you call it, it’s a truly fundamental and critical conversation that every project and program manager should welcome and ask for. It’s vital in achieving the right outcome, not just outputs.

Does this story resonate with you?

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Meet Dr. Zeitoun

Dr. Zeitoun is a Future of Work, business optimization, and operational performance excellence thought leader with global experiences in strategy execution. His experiences encompass leading organizations; delivering their Enterprise Digital and Business Transformation; guiding fitting frameworks implementations; and using his empathy, engineering insights, and collaboration strengths to successfully envision new business models and execute complex missions across diverse cultures globally.

In his current role with Siemens, he is responsible for driving the program management practices, masterplan governance, and enabling the strategy transformation processes.

Connect with him on LinkedIn.