When I first read The Goal by Eli Goldratt, it had been following a discussion with some of our service technicians who had been talking about our company’s productivity reporting. Specifically, a huge part of our business was running the refurbishing business for Hewlett-Packard in Rocklin, California, and tracking our processes was critical, as much of the equipment we repaired and refurbished lost considerable value the longer it sat on one of our workbenches or in the warehouse.
While that early tech startup experience was very different from the IT world I soon entered in my next role, I picked up some valuable insights that have come up from time to time throughout my career. In his book, Goldratt talks fairly extensively about the loss of productivity during the manufacturing process as a result of machines on the line breaking down or needing to be retooled between tasks. This loss of productivity on the manufacturing line is much like the loss of productivity experienced by an Information Worker switching between workloads and tools – or of being overloaded by meetings and other interruptions during their day.
How productive are your employees? In my years as a project or operations manager, where I was responsible for the work output of others, I was constantly thinking about what we could do to improve productivity. It’s never an easy undertaking, especially when you don’t have the tools or systems or reporting you need. What is more common is a patchwork of tools and methodologies to make due with what you have, which can results in a lot of manual activities to get work done. It may not be the most efficient way for people to work, but it’s reality.
Rarely do users have the luxury of working with a single platform – and the fact is that our tools are getting more and more complex. Even within the Microsoft ecosystem, there are productivity tools that overlap. With BYOD policies firmly entrenched, we use a mix of work and personal devices across an array of enterprise and consumer applications. It may be a governance nightmare, but it’s the way most people work these days.
We all have an idea about what productivity means, and whether or not our organizations get the most out of their employees. The problem with improving productivity is that its much more than simply adding another tool. It involves a rethinking of the entire user experience: the tools, the conversations and sharing that happens between tools, the lifecycle of a project, and the governance of all of these moving parts.
One major difference between the typical IT project and the manufacturing examples illustrated within The Goal (which I highly recommend everyone read, btw) is that IT projects often move forward without a clear understanding of what is to be delivered, without a clear picture of that “end state” of the project. You don’t have that problem with manufacturing processes – you know you’re building a DVD player, a car, or whatever. IT efforts are much more fluid. Inputs and expectations can change at any moment – which is why organizations should think more deeply about the UX of their systems. A good UX is not about explicitly directing the actions of end users, but in providing options and a “flow” to the work.
Productivity is about reducing friction, allowing employees to focus on solving problems rather than getting hung up on the underlying technology.