Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Must-Have Skills : "Productivity Improvements"?

While cruising WSJ, I ran across an article "Must Have Job Skills in 2013."  Written like a Horoscope, the skills listed could have applied for any year from 5 A.D. to 3000 A.D.  However, the one that jumped off the page was "Productivity Improvement".  I rallied around it because we judge employees on their productivity.

In our knowledge-centric atmosphere of software, productivity isn't making widgets faster and moving the production line.  Productivity is choosing the best of an ambiguous set of desired outputs.  Achieving that output with minimal effort.  Finally, minimizing future effort required to persist the output.

Skills required for productivity are decision making and systems design.  Assisting influencers are: understanding of the system and consumer and previously crafted tools to leap frog from.

The more I thought of it, I doubted the ability of one individual to unilaterally affect the productivity of an organization.  It must be a cultural, cumulative shift.

Improve Everyone's Decision Making Ability

Do you know how to achieve 100% productivity gains right now?  Choose not to perform a non-productive task.  Productivity gains in the US workforce haven't come because we've gotten better at doing.  Productivity improved because companies have only enough workers to do important tasks.  Fellow employees felt the pain of individuals not doing the most important tasks and corrected the person.

Improving decision making in a corporation happens by answering the following question: How can everyone in the company answer the question 'what should I do now?' with the correct answer quickly and with as little effort as possible?

Isn't that the purpose of the business crap we learn about?  Goals, visions, values.  Give everyone a common target, and people and teams will self correct.

Understanding the System, Future of the System, and Consumer of the System

Edwards Demming emphasizes the idea of Systems Knowledge.  He says, every action in a company has a person consuming the output of that action.  The key to understanding what to do and quality of output is to understand the needs of that person who is accepting the output.

YC alumni have the motto: "Make something people want."  The depth of the motto is the lack of definition of product and the consumer.  Something can mean actions, products, ideas, processes, art, performance, knowledge, or a life.  People can mean end-consumers, direct-customers, sales team, support team, business owners, or spouses and families.  "Make something people want" means different things to the consumer of the organization.

To my wife, "make something people want" means "make [a life] that will be fulfilling for our values."

To most of our customers, "make something people want" means "make a database platform that enables me to do what I do best."

Brandon Mathis is the UI Expert at MongoHQ.  He is a good designer, but he is amazing at understanding the consumers of our tool.  He asks the overlooked questions that differentiate the output of our product.

When designing and development for a system, the next visible step is not always the best step.  Understanding the system allows you to take confident steps toward the best outcome.  When designing a system, don't forget the hidden element of time: are you designing your system for current consumers or future consumers?  Will your decision today stand the test in two months?

Emphasis on Internal Tools and Rewarding Improvement

The US is individualistic.  I am individualistic.  I like to think my single action affected the output more than 50% so that I can claim ownership of the win.

Corporations, by definition, are not individualistic.  There are room for heroes, but the ability of people derives from the system are bound.  Dysfunctional systems can kill the output of heroes.  Well oiled systems enable super-human output from everyone.

Building the culture of improvement and the tools for understanding a system isn't a phrase that sounds sexy and productive.  Github, a company by which all young companies measure themselves, has made "internal tools" sexy.  "Internal tools" for Github are:

  • Dashboards that display previously unknown information that is concise, actionable
  • Improved communication tools that distribute knowledge to all employees
  • Scripts and code that turn a 30 minute task into something no human ever has to think about again

With the "internal tools", Github is optimizing output for every consumer in the organization.  They are also building a culture of improvement.

. . . I've re-read this post.  It appears, I too have been as generic as a horoscope.

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