On Being Productive

Edward Deming said that around 94% of possible improvements belong to the system, which was the responsibility of management. While it strikes me as a very precise number, Deming was all about precision and careful measurement, so I’ll give him some latitude in his analysis. Even if he was off by some percentage points, the bigger point remains in full force: management have a lot to do with the productive capacity of an organization. The organization of work, the allocation and tracking of tasks, the empowerment of individuals, teams, and groups within the organization to achieve these tasks, the tools provided to support the carrying out of work … all of this has a lot to do with management.

This idea came back to me during a recent client project with a government agency. They have aligned themselves with a non-mainstream vendor, and thus public servants joining the organization have to learn a new set of products. The agency can’t rely on previous exposure to its products of choice, because most of their peer organizations use Microsoft tools. And to be fair, the organization uses its tools of choice very well; the structure and approach is world class, and there would be few among their Microsoft-oriented peer organizations who were doing as well as they were. However, this doesn’t negate the problem of people joining the organization and being … surprised that Outlook, Office, and SharePoint aren’t available. My work with the client was a component of a re-energized focus on effective induction training, context setting, and training on how to use the current and new components of “the system.”

Which brings me to Deming’s statement, and my application of it in situations like that above: if your organization is going to choose to be non-mainstream, you have invest in enabling your new and current employees to fully embrace the system and thus be productive in your environment. To do otherwise is to (a) give a context for a strong challenge to the tools of choice, and (b) condemn employees to an environment of poor productivity.

(And on the opposing side, too, even if your organization is using tools from a mainstream vendor, you need to ensure your employees can use them in a productive way aligned with your organizational system.)

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