Outcomes Over Outputs: The PM’s North Star

· 4 min read
Outcomes Over Outputs: The PM’s North Star

After an extensive search, you hire your first dedicated product manager, hoping she will take your app to the next level. She impresses everyone with her sheer knowledge of methodology. You feel hopeful seeing the passion shining in her eyes when she describes her vision for transforming your product development.

That optimism continues during the first month as she dives in, enthusiastic about making positive change. But soon, engineers start to complain about processes becoming too rigorous. The new PM has stellar ideas but very little insight into how to make them work.

As the months pass, you notice increasing friction. Much energy goes into creating diagrams and presentations of how things should be done, but her proposals feel oddly disconnected from developers’ day-to-day constraints. Engineers glaze over as she pitches yet another elaborate framework. They long not for another round of analysis but for clear priorities and closer cross-functional collaboration.

Quietly, your confidence deflates — presentations gradually outpace usable product updates. It feels like academic tendencies hinder progress more than help team cohesion.

Going Beyond Frameworks to Get Real Results

Frameworks are great, but fancy process documents don’t pay the bills or do the job for customers, so PMs need to be grounded in shipping things people want.

Best practices have their place, but they shouldn’t become some academic rabbit hole that disconnects you from real work. Spend less time crafting the perfect roadmap and more time talking to real users to find out what pains exist in their world right now.

Use frameworks to guide you, but don’t get so hung up on “doing PM right” that you lose perspective. The staggering success stories we love — Airbnb, Uber, Spotify — didn’t start with some perfect process. They began by identifying a human struggle and relentlessly focusing on how tech could help.

Bring that human-centered, get-ish-done spirit to your PM work. Lean on frameworks, but not as a substitute for actually building, learning, and improving. If you over-index on process instead of outcomes, you may end up with no actual advancement for customers. And these days, that’s how products get disrupted.

So stay agile in your approach — adapt to business needs, leadership wisdom, and user feedback. Beautifully crafted best practices never built a billion-dollar business. Obsessively solving problems did. That’s your job as PM.

Finding the Right Balance

As with many things, you’ve got to strike the right balance. On one hand, having processes in place can keep everyone aligned. Following a plan is a good thing. But on the other hand, you can’t put on blinders and ignore new information just because “the process says so.” That’s a quick way to misalign from reality.

The key is flexibility. View those PM approaches as tools that help make decisions, not strict rules that shut down critical thinking. For example, user research is great for getting user perspectives, but you still need to filter those learnings through the lens of business strategy. And while having a well-defined roadmap is important, you can’t just lock it down without considering new data or guidance from leadership.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

As a PM, you feel like you own the product. It’s your baby. But other teams — engineering, sales, the executive team — have valuable perspectives too. When they don’t understand your vision, digging in your heels or trying to pull rank never ends well.

Instead of seeing others as adversaries, try viewing them as partners. Schedule some working sessions and map out each team’s roadmaps together. Explain your own priorities clearly, but also ask questions and listen. Where are you aligned? Where are the disconnects? Finding common ground builds trust and gets people invested in shared goals rather than protecting their turf.

This requires real talk, though. The executives need transparency into tradeoff decisions you’re making. Engineering should understand how you landed on certain features over others. And you need their context, too — the sales funnel, the technical constraints, the overall company objectives.

No one operates in a vacuum. Stay engaged across the business instead of retreating into your product bubble. You won’t need the “CEO” title to lead if you listen and share openly. You’ll inspire people to rally behind the vision. That’s how you transform a company.

Staying Grounded in Reality

We’ve all been there — you get excited about some new framework or process that promises to make you a product management rockstar. As you polish those UI flows and journey maps, you tell yourself that if you can just follow this methodology, your product will be sleek and successful.

It’s a trap. We want to believe that if we can check all the boxes and perfectly execute some established playbook, it will all work out. After all, anyone would love a clear set of steps in their work.

At some point, reality sets in. You discover that no template, no matter how well-crafted, can capture the messy nuance of product development. Users have complicated needs that don’t fit neatly into boxes. Stakeholders have their own ideas and constraints and change them often. Timelines slip for reasons no diagram can explain.

What looked straightforward on paper became the tricky challenge of transforming an idea into working software that aligns business priorities with user goals. Suddenly, your clean process flows don’t account for changing course based on feedback, dealing with resource limitations, or managing executive expectations.

The reality of product development is messy, nonlinear, and often unpredictable. The most beautiful documents in the world won’t launch a successful product if you ignore what users actually need or what engineers are actually building.

At some point, you must close the laptop on those perfect slides and dig into the imperfect realities of identifying problems, prioritizing solutions, and shipping value.

Product management frameworks provide great inspiration, but real transformation comes from pragmatism, team cooperation, and a relentless focus on outcomes over outputs. Keep sight of the end goal of creating value as you navigate processes. And be ready to tweak or abandon any model that becomes more theater than progress.

Originally published on Medium.com