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Are We More Productive?

By Andrew White | August 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

ProductivityMRP/MRP IIERPemail

Ask yourself this question: concerning what you do at work, have you become more productive, say in the last year? What about the last three years?  What about looking back 10 years?  If you have significantly changed your job, you may not be able to answer the question since you may not know how the work of today was executed 5 or 10 years ago.

Before you blurt out the perfunctory, “Of course I am!” I’d like to point out for your consideration that doing email over dinner, in the bathroom, or first thing after you wake up, is not increased productivity.  These are examples of increased output: the effort or input needed to “do” email remains the same.

More interestingly think back to the mid-1980s when email was first used inside firms?  Do you still remember the excitement when that system was rolled out?  It truly was amazing to be able to communicate with others in a company, perhaps in different locations, in minutes.

Such innovations did improve productivity at that time since the new inter-company email replaced the traditional interoffice snail-mail.  Then email started to flow between firms and what we now see today is virtually unchanged to what was unleashed on business back then.  So here is the point:

Can you name a specific technology and innovation and how it improved your personal productivity?  That is, the ratio of output to input was increased?

Email was really an application of the computer.  Electronically sending and receiving email replaced typed and written documents.  Email and the attendant computers democratized a major form of communication: displaced what was then the office secretary, pneumatic systems and trolleys; and dramatically improved the output/input ratio.  But would all emails sent and received today have been written or typed up as letters in 1988?  Are they all high value-add?  What degree of email is actually noise, actually reducing overall productivity, as they suck up your time reading and deleting them?

Conceptually email has not changed in its form of creation and consumption for almost 30 years.  Sure, you used to sit at a monitor at your desk to read it, and now you might read that email on a smart phone as you zip across the pond. But that email was likely typed as it was in 1985 and it was read by the same eyes, only those eyes squint more now than they did 30 years ago!

Twitter is not going to improve productivity of email.  It might replace some email.  It is nothing other than a short-form of email.  The bulletin-board nature of Twitter is cool but again won’t change the fundamental output/input equation.  In fact, speaking personally, it seems I do more email than ever before and now add to that Twitter posts.  So more work again, but not improved productivity.

For some, dictation software might improve the output/input ratio for email.  It is easier to speak a letter than to type it.  But dictation software does not seem to have taken over the email market.  It is actually quite hard to dictate letters or reports without actually seeing the draft develop as you go with a screen.  So as it stands, verbally dictating emails does not seem to have driven increased email productivity.

Perhaps audio email might help?  As you probably know there are tools that will audibly enunciate your phone messages for you.  But responding to them is most likely limited to ‘call back’ rather than a differentiated communication capability.  Maybe you get your “voice mail” as an email now – how nice for you.

I was walking through a factory the other day.  I literally saw a factory worker ride past on a bicycle on his way to deliver parts to a production line.  I rode such a bike in the 1980’s on a different production line in a different country. Back then it was for parts to go on a sealing device that would help keep water out of a nuclear submarine.  The one I saw the other day was for another very large military object.

There are of course lots of good examples of innovation in manufacturing that has increased productivity over the years: numerical and then computer-controlled equipment for one; more recently robotics has further extended the output/input equation.  But MRP is still MRP; firms still plan pretty much the same basic way.

And so much money has gone into IT.  You would think with all the gadgetry going around we would be hugely more productive.  But I put it to you that we are not able to show this ongoing improvement.  A basic step-change in productivity did take place some years ago with ‘computing’ and some other innovations were spun out from that.  Research differs slight as to this “up-wave” period but it tends to be agreed somewhere around late 1950’s through to the early 1970’s.  But email is still email; writing and reading a report is still writing and reading a report.

For all the cool apps on your smart-phone app store, are we really increasing productivity or simply moving the bits around on the same size plate?

Sent from my iPad using Mail+ for Outlook

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