Keeping Your Best and Brightest, Part II - Page 1

Apr 13, 2005

Joe Santana

For some of you, administering the survey from my column last month to your teams may have provided a pleasant surprise.

For others, however, the results may have been less then stellar and led to the next set of questions, "What make it so hard to get things done in my organization and what can I do about it?"

Some IT organizations approach productivity challenges by adopting one of the many best practice systems, such as ITIL, Six Sigma or any of the other less well known flavors of month improvement practices. These all provide positive benefits. All of these, however, will work a lot better if we couple them with the removal of what I affectionately refer to as management-and organization-made productivity obstacles.

When I first spoke to Bill Jensen, author of Work 2.0, and our conversation zeroed-in on management-and-organization-made productivity obstacles, I was excited by how applicable the conditions and advice he presents to organizations across various professions and industries is to the IT space specifically.

IT Productivity Obstacles

Clearly one of the biggest errors made by IT leaders and organizations that experience less than optimal productivity is the practice of trying to cram more stuff into people's schedules along with poorly designed support tools in a manner that increases their team members personal aggravation.

People have a finite amount of time and attention. Their ability to perform is also directly linked to their ability to make sense of what needs to be done. Finally, their motivation to perform is directly linked to the ratio of pleasure and pain offered by the task.

All of these factors are experienced at the individual level and need to be addressed at the individual level with each member of your team.

The key, therefore, to increasing IT productivity with any of the aforementioned best practice methodologies in place is to couple them with a clear recognition of people's needs and limitations and manage these effectively. Specifically:

  • Focusing their attention on what you need to get done.
  • Creating user friendly tools that enable them to make sense out of input work data faster.
  • Decreasing the personal pain to act and if possible also increasing the pleasure factors based on their personal value system.
  • At this point, you may wonder, what are some specific ways my organization and I can do this? The good news is, its not really that hard or, in many cases, expensive.

    Fixing the Problem

    Here are just six of the many specific ways you can make your IT more productive by addressing individual team member needs based on my discussion with Jensen tailored for the IT space:

    Study, test and implement usability friendly tools. Treat your employees the way consumer companies treat their customers.

    No consumer company worth its salt would pull customers and prospects to a Web site that was hard to navigate and of low-value to their customer because they know that their competitor is only one click away.

    While your employees may not have an alternative tool one click away (yet), human beings will naturally look for ways to circumvent and/or replace painful to use systems.

    In the end, your investment in these unfriendly tools are not completely returned by the positive results you expect and you generally spend a great deal of management time and effort to force people to use them even modestly. Make it easy for your team members to navigate and get the information they need to get their work done.

    Organize data and tools the way people need them and you will get a bigger ROI on your tools and reduce your cost of running a management-police operation.

    One way to do this is to design your work tools backwards. Start with the needs of the team member who will use the tool relative to the achieving the goals set for them. (Sound like the way we build customer interfaces? Exactly!)

    Of utmost importance in our quest to improve productivity, however, is the fact that as Jensen aptly puts it "[e]ase of use and reduced consumption of time to perform are equal or greater motivators than rewards, recognition and hierarchy in driving human behavior."

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