I recently came across an article proposing that "It’s time to stop measuring productivity" by Dominic Price, the resident "work futurist" at Atlassian.
His "5 second summary" is:
- Productivity metrics are an outdated, counterproductive way of measuring human impact in a world where humans are focused on producing ideas (vs. widgets).
- Using output over time to measure a knowledge worker’s performance ignores the quality of that output and the results it led to.
- Instead of productivity, we should be measuring whether knowledge workers are achieving the right results for customers and whether they’re happy and healthy while doing it.
Unfortunately Dominic is perpetuating the common misunderstanding that the inhabitants of the manufacturing / product world (producers of widgets) somehow don't take quality into their calculations when measuring productivity. He quotes best-selling author Dan Pink who apparently told him that "he could write two mediocre books in the same time it takes to write one really good book. Two books is twice the output! Twice the productivity! Hallelujah!". If you extend this logic into the widget world, a computer or car manufacturer could ship twice as many poor quality products into the market for the same cost and not feel the consequences. While he correctly notes that outputs (numbers of products/widgets) and outcomes (satisfied customers) are not the same thing, he seems unaware of the equivalent difference between quality and Quality (small q v big Q).
Small "q" means "freedom from deficiencies – freedom from errors that require doing work over again (rework) or that results in field failures, customer dissatisfaction, customer claims, and so on." Big "Q" means "those features of products/services which meet customer needs and thereby provide customer satisfaction." What he and many of the inhabitants of the service and knowledge-work world fail to understand is that their colleagues in the product world (the widget producers or manufacturers) have successfully separated measuring outputs (small q quality) and outcomes (Big Q Quality).
By confusing or misunderstanding Quality and quality, managers in the service and knowledge-work sectors are abdicating their responsibility to optimise their use of resources for the benefit of all stakeholders, including society and their customers. More importantly, they are failing to provide the people who work in the service and knowledge-work sectors with work environments that are free of the enormous stresses and strains found more commonly in the service and knowledge-work sectors.
Service and Knowledge-Work Organisation's who have in place the skills and capabilities required to measure and manage productivity can double their productivity and reduce workforce stress. Steve McConnell, who is widely regarded in the software development world, has written extensively on the failure to develop and apply good estimation techniques to software development and has published what he considers to be the to top 20 sins of software estimation, sins that I believe are equally applicable to all knowledge work (see Steve's video here or click on the picture). As you can see from the screen capture (left) , he considers that "believing good estimates are impossible" is the #1 sin.
I believe the same applies to believing that measuring productivity is a bad thing or impossible to achieve.
Manufacturing / product organisations measure both outcomes and outputs, they just measure them separately. By establishing the criteria/specification for what a good product is, they can measure the output of good products and hence measure productivity. They measure outcomes separately through market research and/or feedback through their customer service/experience teams. Their is no good reason why service and knowledge-work organisations can't do the same thing.
In helping organisations do so, we have seen service and knowledge work organisations double their productivity and increase both employee and customer satisfaction.