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Too many of the standard metrics tracked by companies today are output metrics. As the name suggests, output metrics measure the outcomes, results or impacts you hope to achieve with your business. These are often the exciting big goals such as “Increase product sales by 120%” or “Close $2 million in new business.” Patagonia, for example, has a big goal to radically reduce its carbon emissions.
Although important in forecasting performance, establishing priorities and setting goals, output metrics are often uncontrollable, or at least not as controllable as input metrics. Instead of measuring your efforts’ effects, input metrics help guide your activities toward reaching a goal. Think of them as checkpoints along the way to a particular destination.
Because they act as checkpoints, input metrics can serve you well in monitoring product growth. Simply put, an input metric is an action your company can take to impact your business goals and outcomes. They can be essential in determining which steps to take and when to take them, as they help define product decisions to achieve better results. They can also help identify problems and offer insights into necessary course adjustments.
Getting everyone on the same page
Most importantly, input metrics get everyone focused on the same page. Using input metrics, all stakeholders understand the “why” behind decisions, their role in achieving the goal and what success looks like.
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Without the proper metrics, your team will inevitably run into questions about competing priorities. You need to break up a large (sometimes open-to-interpretation) goal — such as product growth — into smaller, more manageable product functions. And therein lies the beauty of input metrics: They keep the primary output metric on track by measuring those factors you and your team can control and directly contribute to the desired outcome.
Like any process in your company, people understand that following specific steps will get certain results. But those steps didn’t materialize out of the ether. Someone had to use input metrics to monitor and experiment to arrive at the process or product you see today.
The challenge of arriving at the right input metrics
Arriving at the correct input metrics for your product can be easier said than done. For starters, it is easy to accidentally track so many metrics that choosing one that doesn’t serve you well becomes a real risk. And it isn’t until after launch that you figure out there might be a better way. By then, your focus will have to turn toward establishing a feedback loop and working toward optimization efforts. This will require another set of product metrics.
Companies also run into problems with priorities. You might find the product stalls somewhere within its development, as your company’s current focus doesn’t coincide with a metric you’re moving toward. You could change that metric, but this would lead to problems down the line — either with the product itself or other teams’ priorities. It’s possible to achieve one of the input metrics for your product only to find out that your success negatively impacted that of another metric for an entirely different team. Balance is tricky.
Then, of course, there’s always the issue of collaboration. Although valuable for driving results, being dependent on other teams to achieve an input metric can be challenging. Should another team’s priorities change, it will inevitably impact your ability to move your product forward. Even after launch, changing priorities could affect the success of your product on the market; this is especially true for product growth.
Choosing good input metrics
Making good choices regarding metrics starts with defining what you hope to accomplish. That’s the long and short of it. Once you understand the goal, you can identify a set of drivers, or the smallest actionable inputs necessary to achieve results.
Keeping them small allows you to change behaviors incrementally (a more manageable task) and makes the metrics much easier to measure and remember. That way, you can directly attribute any action you take to an impact on one of your metrics. If the impact isn’t what you expected, the input’s small size means you can make quick adjustments to keep your efforts moving in the right direction.
Good input metrics should also incentivize the desired behavior, whatever you hope to accomplish. Take something like sales, for example. If you want to increase the number of deals closed per month, a sound input metric might be the number of customer interactions that align with your ideal persona.
If your output metric is to increase the number of email subscribers, then you might want to monitor the percentage of blog posts with a custom incentive email form embedded within the text. If the goal is to improve your net promoter score, perhaps you should look at the percentage of customer support tickets closed in the last few days.
Although your company’s goal might be product growth, that concept is too large to make it actionable, nor is such a goal controllable. Breaking down goals into measurable touchpoints and then identifying the drivers you and your team have complete control over is how you achieve those big, nebulous goals.
What metrics are dependent on your actions? What can you and your team do today that might influence product growth a month from now? Always keep those output metrics in the back of your mind, but move those input metrics to the forefront — they should drive your next step.
Nick Chasinov is the founder and CEO of Teknicks.
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