Drinking coffee

…that don’t come packaged with the software.

There are probably more than 7, but these will do for now to avoid writing a book in one post:

  1. Who does the typing?
  2. Avoid micro-management
  3. Vaccinate against ‘cc-itus’ and ‘reply-all-itus’
  4. It’s good to talk
  5. Let people enjoy their work
  6. Practice versus process
  7. Avoid work

1. Who does the typing?

I was once in a meeting at a law firm, talking about Microsoft’s portal and collaborative technologies, when the customer commented; “Don’t try and sell me anything that requires lawyers to type. I don’t want expensive typists. Sell me a system that increases their billable hours versus non-billable.”

How many hours of time are wasted by people typing with two fingers? If you want to improve productivity, either teach people to type or give their typing work to someone who can (type). In my first job, I was fascinated at the speed of the secretaries. One day, I asked them how they learnt to touch type. 15 minutes later and I was flying. Best investment of time I ever made. I managed to get my boring admin work finished in a quarter of the time others took, freeing up the rest of my day to potter with more interesting stuff (hacking about with the computer systems which led to a career switch…)

This approach extends to knowledge management systems. The demand placed on people to document and submit ‘best practices’ often results in only ‘average’ practices being submitted. Why? The most successful people in your organization will have already moved on to the next project – they are rarely given sufficient time to document effectively (and successful people will not submit substandard work). If you want to capture knowledge from your best people, hire some writers to go and interview them. The work will be completed in less time and better style (your best people aren’t necessarily natural authors).

2. Avoid micro-management

Could be biased here, as I prefer ambiguity to detail when given orders from above. ‘Tell me roughly what you want, and let me figure out how to deliver it’ is my preferred way of working, but I appreciate others prefer to work by numbers. Anyways… if you want to improve productivity, minimize management process. The need to micro-manage suggests you don’t trust your people to do the job properly (or you haven’t explained it well enough). If so, sort that issue out, don’t continually interfere and make it difficult for them to do the job at all.

There was a great comment made during Gartner’s European Symposium, held in May 2005: When building a CRM system, sales people have 1 requirement: give me the information I need to sell more stuff. Sales management come up with 400 requirements, all around managing and measuring what sales people are doing with their time. What happens? Productivity goes down, i.e. more time is spent filling in reports and less time is spent actually selling stuff. Doh!

3. Vaccinate against ‘cc-itus’ and ‘reply-all-itus’

(note: credit goes to Gerry McGovern for his post on the concept of ‘cc-itus’.)

Aaaah, ‘cc-itus’, also known as ‘cover-your-arse’ syndrome, and its close relative ‘reply-all-itus’ are becoming the bane of many an email system. Performance review systems should be credited with most of the blame – the need to be visible in order to be measured against your peers combined with the need to share blame if you fail (‘but I copied you on that email and you never said I shouldn’t do it…’) has led to the average business person spending 1.5 hrs each day processing email.

If you want to improve productivity, demonstrate that you trust people to get on and do whatever it is they are producing, and discourage the desire to let as many people know about it via email. Add to that a bit of email etiquette training. Why Outlook does not come pre-configured with a warning ‘do you really want to reply-all to over 3,000 people, you muppet?’ is a complete mystery to me. Maybe if OpenOffice did it… (hey, it worked for ‘save as PDF’) 🙂

4. It’s good to talk

Provide an environment where people can take time out and share experiences – it improves knowledge, creates relationships, builds respect, generates new ideas (tip: ‘different practice’ trumps ‘best practice’)… the list goes on. Net result: productivity will improve, quality will improve.

Whenever I have been asked what is the best KM tool at Microsoft (in the UK), I always reply with ‘the atrium’. If you visit Microsoft’s UK headquarters, in Thames Valley Park (Reading, Berkshire), each building has a coffee bar and seating area styled like Starbucks. The biggest area is the atrium in building 2. At any time of the day, if you want to meet up with someone, you can grab a coffee and a sofa and chat. For me, that was a huge difference compared to previous working environments, where you had to book a meeting room in advance (no good for spontaneous discussion) or where you either hovered near a desk or hid in the cafeteria because ‘chatting’ was frowned upon. I can think of at least one project that was turned on its head (diverting impending doom) thanks to a chance conversation in the queue for coffee. Not measurable, but certainly invaluable.

5. Let people enjoy their work

People work best (i.e. smartest and most effective, not just harder) when they are doing stuff they enjoy.

This is one of those statements that nobody argues against but everybody ignores. We’re supposed to be in an era when creativity rules, yet I see an increasing fascination with turning work into a series of standardized tasks with standard measurements… make people feel like they are just part of a production line and they are unlikely to be doing something they enjoy. Sure, you’ll get some nice neat and tidy measurements to put into your scorecard, but do the measurements represent what really could be achieved or what was pre-determined as achievable?

This issue covers all ages. How often does a child get marked down as a failure at school, yet can recite the names and profiles of all the players in their favourite football team along with the results from the last three games, who they are playing next, where they stand in the league, likelihood of finishing in the top or bottom half of the league table at the end of the season… who said they had a lousy memory? That’s the difference between toil and play.

6. Practice versus process

Business Process Automation (BPA) is a hot topic again at the moment – how to improve efficiency by automating processes. Sounds like a sensible plan – more efficient processes are likely to lead to increased productivity, right? Maybe…

A business process is a defined procedure (usually with a manual to support it), but just how accurately does it represent reality, i.e. the actual practice of business? The official process requires the sales person to refer to the price list on the intranet to negotiate a discount. The actual practice is the sales person has a local spreadsheet that is their own annotated version of the price list… written on a note stuck to their monitor…

To improve productivity, think business practice automation instead of process automation. Otherwise, you risk improving the theory, not the practice (and it’s the practical application that determines productivity).

7. Avoid work

And finally, to improve productivity, follow Peter Drucker’s advice:

“There is nothing as useless as doing that which does not need to be done”

Eliminate everything from your schedule that does not add value. That includes roughly 394 of those CRM requirements listed in point 2. Back to the old Scottish proverb: ‘Weighing sheep won’t make them any fatter’. Measurements have their place, but do keep them in their place.

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