No stretching

Parkinson’s Law famously stated that work expands to fill the time available. That is why we say “If you want something doing, give it to a busy person.”

Non-busy people make themselves look busy by expanding the work to fill their available time. Busy people fit the work into their available resources, condensing the time to what’s left in their busy schedule.

As a manager, your job is to distinguish between the truly busy (and effective) and the work stretchers.

Robots Good?

I was musing about robots recently – as one does … and started thinking about the sociology of such devices. Humans in a work situation can be excellent performers as  individuals but the real performance gains come when humans are organised into cooperative and collaborative teams.

Will the same be true for robots?

The answer to this has  little to do with the possible  effects on business.  This is a question for wider society – and for policy makers.

Are robot designers and manufacturers building ‘social skills’. Into their robots. Modern AI and machine learning approaches should make this possible. If robots could organise themselves into cooperative and collaborative groups, we may be astonished at the productivity gains we see.

 AI is quite a controversial area with many observers and commentators nervous about the potential threats in the future from sentient, intelligent (though artificial) beings.

With the potential for cooperative abilities built in, we might see highly efficient autonomous workgroups … but sometime in the future could we see robot ‘trades unions’ and even robot armies. 


Think before you count.

I read a piece the other day on the use of productivity measures for academic staff. The measures were all about output quantity (presumably with the proviso that papers wouldn’t be published if they didn’t meet quality criteria). However what matters is not quantity of output or quality of output but the impact of that output – how is thinking or practice changed as a result. 

This is difficult to measure as truly innovative and original ideas could take years to achieve their full impact. But attempting to judge it – even subjectively – might be a better measure than simply counting it. 

Productivity measures can be quite difficult to establish in certain contexts but we should be as creative with our measures as we are with our productivity improvements. 


 

 

 

An Intellifgent Future?

Artificial Intelligence is said to be set to revolutionise many sectors. Is this a force for productivity gains or just a threat to jobs?

Well, as the Australian Productivity Commission said recently, technology has over time created many more jobs than it has replaced.  But like Moore’s law, most technology trends eventually come to a juddering halt. So, AI might destroy more jobs than it creates.

If so, we will need to change how we distribute and share wealth – the fruits of productivity. Wealth inequality has been growing over the last 20 years. We have seen very few experiments in halting, or even slowing, it.

Yet, unless we find a way of ensuring that the many without work share the gains made by the few in work, society seems doomed.

Of course I could be wrong. (I often am.) AI might create a range if jobs that we haven’t even thought about yet … and we will continue our march of inequality to ….???

Turn the clock back

Modern workplaces seem antagonistic to efficient working and productivity.  They are noisy, stressful, full of constant chatter. constant interruptions from telephones, streams of emails and so on.

Perhaps its time to turn the clock back.  Get rid of some of the technology. Start to think about the workers, not the kit. We know that productivity is all about people – let’s show them we believe that by thinking about their needs.

Let’s give them the time and space they need to be productive and creative.

A Good Start

Most of us try to organise our working day to maximise performance and efficiency. Yet for many of us that day can be ruined before it really starts. 

If we rise and start worrying about what we should wear (which tie?) and then have a stressful commute, we have drained some of our precious potential energy.

So start your working day the night before. Plan your wardrobe, plan your commute (including the distractions from the stress – your music, podcast or reading material). 

Smile at your fellow commuters … you will get smiles back and feel better.

Arrive at work ready to go and hit the ground running by attacking an agenda you established before you left yesterday.

A good start is so important.

Rule number 7

If you want the real secret to productivity development, it is …

Well, the most important factor is to always, always remember rule number 7 – train and develop your staff, and treat them well.  They really are your most important resource – the source of your innovation, your improvement, your quality.

What about rules 1 to 6, I hear you ask.   They don’t exist – but the one true rule is so important it needs a number like 7 … and I guarantee you are more likely to remember it because it is rule number 7.

So, start practising it, today.

Backing Up

We all know he importance of backing up the work we do on computer – even if we don’t always practise what we know we should.

We also know we should have some form of backup service for the primary services and technologies we use – this can be expensive however, to maintain services we will hopefully never use.

Like all ‘insurance’ we have to weigh the risks with the costs and take rational decisions. What we must not do is to pretend the problem /issue does not exist and fail to plan.

If we have staff waiting around because core systems are not working, it can be very expensive.

The agenda matters

When giving talks to people about productivity, I often express my amazement – and my worry – that governments spend a lot of time working on the wrong things.

For example, in the UK at the current time, Brexit has been dominating the time of Parliament and the Cabinet.

Brexit is important- but it doesn’t solve any of the UK’s underlying productivity problems.

Government needs to do what we all have to do – sort out the urgent from the important – and make sure longer-term planning is not forgotten for the sake of short-term expediency.

Educational Productivity

I read a piece the other day on the use of productivity measures for academic staff. The measures were all about output quantity (presumably with the proviso that papers wouldn’t be published if they didn’t meet quality criteria). However what matters is not quantity of output or quality of output but the impact of that output – how is thinking or practice changed as a result. This is difficult to measure as truly innovative and original ideas could take years to achieve their full impact. But attempting to judge it – even subjectively – might be a better measure than simply counting it.

Productivity measures can be quite difficult to establish in certain contexts but we should be as creative with our measures as we are with our productivity improvements.