How to measure progress for long term outcomes

How can you stay confident about future outcomes if your project takes 6 months to ship? (A: use success proxies)

How to measure progress for long term outcomes

Hiring a critical role, launching a new product, changing your org structure... Those are projects that require a significant amount of time before you can start measuring their impact. So how can you stay confident about the future outcomes without having to wait 4-6 months to see if you moved the needle?

Outcome-driven teams need rapid feedback on their plan, and the solution is to find proxy measures of success.

Lagging vs. leading indicators

If you can't observe direct improvements within a few weeks, you'll need to figure out leading indicators for the outcomes you want. These metrics don't measure success directly, but they should help you feel closer to your goal.

Let's take the hiring example. A lagging indicator of success is to look at the performance of the new hire after the first 90 days. But that can easily take 6 months if you factor in the whole recruitment process.

You can't wait that long, and you need to find other ways to make sure that you're on track. Here are some things that you can measure early on:

  • How many people have applied to the job
  • How diverse is the pool of applicants
  • How many people had an excellent profile for the job
  • How many got to the final round of interviews

Tracking these metrics is not just about seeing progress. It's about helping you refine your approach early on. You'll understand right away if your job offer is poorly-written, not posted in the right places, or if your hiring process is broken.

It won't tell you yet how much impact on the business your new teammate will have, but it will raise your confidence levels.

Always be on the look for leading indicators

The more complex a project is, the more you'll need success proxies. The goal is to make sure that you won't go more than a month without getting some form of validation. It's also a great way to reduce risk and minimize the cost of being wrong.

A good example of this is Pieter Levels who presold a book in 2015 and published it in 2018. Presales gave him a proxy for the future success of his book, and he collected some feedback along the way to understand what people wanted — early validation and ongoing improvement bundled together for a 3 years effort.

What's next?

Look at your current goals and KRs, and see if you're using long-term lagging metrics. If that's the case, try to switch some of them for leading metrics that you can get rapid feedback on.

Your North Star should stay the same — you're simply changing how you're tracking progress.