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Has “Productivity” Become a Bad Word?

by Craig Roth  |  April 26, 2013  |  Comments Off

Industry analysts, like the rest of IT, speak in code. It’s come to my attention that the word “productivity” may have acquired some baggage as it was picked up by vendors making general purpose software like word processors that couldn’t find a better way to name this category.  So it was used predominantly to refer to vague, back-of-the-napkin calculations of savings that never find their way to the bottom line. For example: “if we save five minutes a day for every sales people, and there are x salespeople who make $y per hour, we’re saving $z”. 

That’s too bad since a broad understanding of productivity is needed for IT to address the full spectrum of it.  Remember how “knowledge management” was forced to spend 15+ years wandering in the desert after overzealous promises were broken in the 1980’s?  KM is just now making a return.  It took literally a generation to pass before finding a new audience that didn’t have a bad impression of the term.

Is “productivity” also damaged goods? 

Productivity is output per unit of input.  The digital world offers less tangible versions of what outputs  and inputs can be.  Output could be “better online customer experience” or “hopefully resulting in higher future purchases”.  Inputs could be “expertise and time spent on improving the web user interface”.  But the formula is unchanged.

In common usage, being more productive means doing more of the thing the measurer cares about.  Therefore, productivity is in the eye of the beholder.  Getting employees to care about the things that matter most to the business is the job of management.  Once IT knows what that is, they can determine what a “productivity tool” looks like. 

Software vendors are making broad assumptions when they declare that a tool helps productivity without knowing what it is you’re trying to do.  For example, helping you quickly add fun animations to your slide presentations may count as productivity if that’s what you need to do and were spending a longer time doing before.  It counts as zero additional productivity if that’s not involved in the goal being measured as “output”, and is just decreasing your “input” (time) as you mess around with it.  I can just picture some of my old bosses saying “unless you’re a clown, fun is not an output.”

Own your definition of productivity.  It should be based on what matters to the people you work for and what the “output” is.  Once you know that, productivity can be pulled in from the proverbial desert and regain a comfortable place in the office.

Category: information-work  

Craig Roth
Managing Vice President: Communication, Collaboration, and Content
4 years at Gartner
25 years IT industry

Craig Roth is a vice president and service director for Gartner Research, in Burton Group's Collaboration and Content Strategies service. Mr. Roth covers a wide range of knowledge and Web-related topics at the intersection of collaboration, content… Read Full Bio




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