Sunday, September 27, 2020

Project Inputs, Activities, Outputs, Outcomes, Impact and Results

Project Inputs, Activities, Outputs, Outcomes and Impact
Many people and organizations seem to have serious trouble separating between the inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, impact, and the results of a project. 

This leads to lot’s of confusion, bad communication, disappointed project teams, and disappointed stakeholders.

Below you will find my take on these terms and their relevance for your project.


Inputs are very often confused to be synonymous with activities. However, these terms are not interchangeable. 

Inputs, in simple terms, are those things that we use in the project to implement it. 

For example, in any project, inputs would include things like time of internal and/or external employees, finances in the form of money, hardware and/or software, office space, and so on. 

Inputs ensure that it is possible to deliver the intended results of a project.


Activities on the other hand are actions associated with delivering project goals. In other words, they are what your people do in order to achieve the aims of the project. 

In a software development project, for example, activities would include things such as designing, building, testing, deploying, etc. And in an upskilling initiative the training of employees would be an activity.


These are the first level of results associated with a project. Often confused with “activities”, outputs are the direct immediate term results associated with a project. 

In other words, they are the delivered scope. The tangible and intangible products that result from project activities. Outputs may include a new product or service, a new ERP system replacing the old one, or employees being trained as part of a digital upskilling initiative.

Success on this first level of results is what I call “Project Delivery Success”. It is about defining the criteria by which the process of delivering the project is successful.

Essentially this addresses the classic triangle "scope, time, budget". 

It is limited to the duration of the project and success can be measured as soon as the project is officially completed (with intermediary measures being taken of course as part of project control processes). 
It is always a combination of measurements on inputs and outputs.


This is the second level of results associated with a project and refers to the medium term consequences of the project. Outcomes usually relate to the project goal(s).  

For example, the new ERP system is used by all users in scope, uptime is 99.99%, customer satisfaction has increased by 25%, operational costs have decreased by 15%, and so on.

These criteria need to be measured once the product/service is implemented and over a defined period of time. This means it cannot be measured immediately at the end of the project itself.

Success on this second level of results is what I often refer to as “Product or Service Success”. It is about defining the criteria by which the product or service delivered is deemed successful.


This is the third level of project results, and is the long term consequence of a project.  Most often than not, it is very difficult to ascertain the exclusive impact of a project since several other projects, not similar in nature can lead to the same impact. 

For example, financial value contribution (increased turnover, profit, etc.) or competitive advantage (market share won, technology advantage).

Success on this third level of results is what I call “Business Success”. Business success is about defining the criteria by which the product or service delivered brings value to the overall organization, and how it contributes financially and/or strategically to the business.


Project results are the combination of outputs (level 1), outcomes (level 2), and impact (level 3). These levels combined will determine your overall project success. You can be successful on one level but not others.

Project success and project failure are NOT absolutes. It may not be possible to be a little bit pregnant, but you can be a little bit successful.

Every project has multiple success criteria related to business results, product/service results, and project delivery results (cost, schedule, scope, and quality).

Some criteria are absolute, meaning they must be completed on or before the original planned date, and some are relative, meaning they must be completed by a date acceptable to the client.

Project success is determined by how many of your success criteria are satisfied, and how well.

In a nutshell: You need to be able to distinguish between the inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and the impact of your project.

If you need some guidance on how to define and measure project results and project success have a look at my Project Success Model and Project Success Definition Workshop.

If you are a senior (non)-executive in the role of a project sponsor or steering committee member in a large and complex transformation project, and you are confronted with topics like the above have a look at this training; (Non)-Executive Crash Course - How to navigate large and complex transformation projects.

I will teach you the most relevant things you need to know in half a day.

Posted on Sunday, September 27, 2020 by Henrico Dolfing