Deliver business value, not projects

About 2 years ago, my eCommerce team was working on a project that would allow Web Merchandising to more easily add content to our sites’ Product Detail Pages (PDPs). After working on the project for three months, we decided it was complete. We delivered the good news to our Executive team in our monthly update and waited for the accolades to come. “Fantastic,” our CEO said, “let’s take a look.” But when the Execs took a look at the PDP, they saw empty spaces where content should have been.

“No, no, no,” we said, “the functionality is complete. It’s just that you won’t see the project’s benefits until the Web Merchandising team adds the content. Probably in about two months.”

Guess how “done” the Execs thought we were. Not very.

It ain’t done ’til it’s making money

The idea that our work is incomplete until its business value is realized doesn’t thrill my team, and it doesn’t particularly thrill me either. It means when we work on a projects with dependencies (pretty much all of them), we can’t really move on without another team’s help. It means instead of thinking of new ways to drive value for the business, we’re finding creative ways to influence schedules we don’t own.

But what’s the alternative? Meetings like the ones described above? Lots of completed projects and no business value realized? A false sense of accomplishment shared by developers and product owners who hit their goals while the company suffered?

Service providers and agencies – the good, successful ones – get this. That’s why, before it gets close to contract renewal time, they’re showing me usage reports and asking if I need help getting more value out of their products. They’re offering consulting services (sometimes even free!), holding quarterly business reviews, and showing me all kinds of cool charts and graphs. They know that creating a terrific platform for generating user reviews or product recommendations is only half the battle. In order to justify renewing the contract, I need to see more reviews or a higher conversion rate – I need to see business value.

In a corporate setting, with so many levels, layers, and inter-dependencies, this message can be harder to land.

Setting the right goals

One way I’ve found to land the message is to give employees goals related to the amount of business value they drive. Within my team, everyone is accountable for at least one – and usually several – business-focused goals related to their work. For example:

  • The PDP conversion rate must improve by 10 bps, or
  • We’ll generate 10% more product reviews for our owned brands

This helps ensure that employees take ownership of the results they drive, and that work continues long after a project goes live. (In fairness, I also include a goal related to each employee’s individual and/or team output, so they’re not completely out of luck if another team falls down on the job. I call these quality and quantity goals – the quality of work is expressed in terms of business value, while the quantity is expressed in terms of sheer volume.)

This is simple, but effective. In cases where employees are focused only on project delivery, I’ve found that – more often than not – their goals are not tied to business outcomes.

I’d love to hear from you

I’ve described what I’ve found to be true time and time again: that employees need to be held accountable for business outcomes, and that business-focused goals are a great way to make it happen.

Now I’d love to know what you think. Do you agree that sharing accountability for business outcomes is critical? How have you solved the problem? Please let me know.


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