Chapter 4: The Three Keys to Unlocking Productivity

In business, the quest for productivity is like the Holy Grail—universally sought but rarely attained. This chapter unpacks the three key factors that can set your organisation on the path to a 10x productivity revolution. Drawing from time-tested principles and contemporary insights, we delve into the new ways of Leading, Thinking, and Working that every organisation needs to adopt.

 

The Magic Number: Three

The number three has a magical significance, not just in folklore but in cognitive psychology as well. Our brains are wired to remember things in threes. This chapter presents a triad of factors—Leading, Thinking, and Working—critical for achieving unprecedented productivity. The sequence matters: starting with leadership sets the stage for organisational culture and process improvements. Many organisations start with the ways of working and concentrate on operational methods, such as Scrum, Kanban, or Agile, bypassing the critical steps of cultivating the right mindset and leadership style. This oversight can stymie progress. Consider the servant leadership model integral to Scrum; it’s often conspicuously absent when businesses hastily assemble Scrum teams. Similarly, leadership teams may rush to adopt Agile methodologies without a foundational understanding of constraint theory, undermining their efforts.

New Ways of Leading: Diverse Culture, Outcome-Based Objectives, and Effective Measures

Leadership is the lynchpin of any organisation’s success. Effective leaders set the tone, define the culture, and create the right motivational ecosystem. They understand the importance of a diverse culture that encourages different perspectives and innovative solutions. They also emphasise outcome-based objectives, steering clear of the vanity metrics that often mislead organisations.

 

Culture and Incentives

Financial incentives are not the silver bullet for motivation. Research reveals that performance-based pay can actually demotivate employees. Instead, organisations should focus on intrinsic rewards like job satisfaction, creativity, and teamwork. For example, Google’s “20% time” allows employees to work on side projects, which not only fosters creativity but has also led to some of Google’s most successful products, like Gmail.

 

New Ways of Thinking: An Agile, Adaptive, Constraints-Aware Mindset

An agile mindset isn’t just for software development; it’s a way of approaching any problem. Organisations need to move from a fixed to a growth mindset, encouraging employees to learn, adapt, and improve. Businesses often fall into the trap of hiring more people to solve problems, but the answer often lies in better utilising existing resources. By adopting a constraints-aware mindset, organisations can do more with less.

 

The Productivity Paradox

Executives often acknowledge the need for productivity improvements but fail to act. This paradox can be broken by a holistic approach that includes training everyone in the organisation to overcome constraints. A Chief Productivity Officer or a Lean Six Sigma consultant can offer short-term gains but for sustainable growth, the change must be organisational.

 

New Ways of Working: Streamlined Processes and Integrated Tools

In the digital age, the right tools and processes can significantly boost productivity. Tools should not only automate tasks but also provide actionable insights. Organisations should aim to build digital operating models that facilitate real-time decision-making.

 

The Pitfalls of Traditional Processes

Ironically, some processes meant to improve quality and efficiency, like ISO 9000, can become burdensome and counterproductive with team maintaining documents that few people ever read apart from the assessor. Companies should aim for a balance between structure and flexibility.

 

The Synergistic Triad: Leading, Thinking, Working

It’s crucial to understand that Leading, Thinking, and Working are not isolated pillars but form a synergistic triad. Each element influences the other, and the absence or failure of one can bring down the entire structure. Achieving a 10x productivity increase isn’t just a lofty goal; it’s a necessity in today’s fast-paced, competitive landscape. Organisations that invest in effective leadership, adopt an agile mindset, and streamline their processes are not just setting themselves up for incremental gains; they are igniting a revolution.
Interested in learning how to implement these strategies in your organisation for a 10x productivity boost? Book a meeting with me to discuss customised solutions tailored to your needs.

Embracing Experimentation, Validated Learning, and “Pirate metrics” to drive 10x Productivity

As a product manager and Chief Product Officer, I’ve learned that the key to productivity is not more resources, but rather a smaller, more talented team with specialist knowledge in software development frameworks. Embracing experimentation, validated learning, and “Pirate metrics” can also lead to greater productivity.

To become a 10x productivity hero, it’s important to understand what makes teams productive at different stages of the product and business lifecycle and to minimise waste by recognizing the benefits of smaller teams. Follow the “2 pizza box rule” on team size as a good rule of thumb.

Coordination and communication become crucial in larger teams, especially when not co-located. And remember that becoming a 10x programmer is not about doing an order of magnitude more work, but by making better decisions an order of magnitude more often.

Join the 10x productivity revolution by following my blog for more insights on increasing productivity and becoming a productivity hero in your organisation. My book will be out in early march.

#ProductivityRevolution #10xhero #specialistknowledge #validatedlearning #coordination #communication #2pizzaboxrule #productivitytips #dalle

Drive your teams productivity 10x: Why Backlogs are not just for development teams.

If you work as part of a technology team or are a product owner, you’ll be familiar with the concept of a ‘backlog.’ In short, a backlog consists of a list of incomplete work items, ideally in priority order and only containing items you can complete in a reasonable amount of time.

Backlogs are common in development environments and are part of Scrum and Kanban, but don’t just think of them as being exclusive to tech startups or new product development. Backlogs can play an important role in helping any business become more productive.

When I headed the global marketing department at Travelport, we ran the whole department off a set of interconnected Kanban boards. After a lot of initial pushback, the team slowly started to recognise the value of visualizing work, understanding work in progress (WIP) limits, and measuring velocity and gained a basic understanding of the underlying principle behind most agile and lean tools.

With access to automation tools, increased data, and better analytics, the traditional marketing department that once focused on creative is beginning to look and function like a development environment. In a growth hacking oriented environment, managing marketing in this way might be a distinct advantage. Combine that with AI to stimulate ideas and support SEO and blogs and you can deliver a step change in marketing productivity learn more in ‘10x The Productivity Revolution” coming soon!

How to deliver 10X productivity (Part I) for Knowledge workers?

Essay (1 of 3) on the future of work in a post COVID-19 World.

Even before Covid 19 changed our working lives, for a long time the way the majority of companies work has been buckling under numerous pressures. For example, how many times have you felt your heart sink on opening your inbox and seeing all your productive time vanish until after lunch? So with remote working the new normal for the foreseeable future, now more than ever, the way we work desperately needs to evolve to keep us on track and in doing so, boost our productivity. Businesses need new tools and processes that support asynchronous working. But how will these work, and what will they achieve?

How about 10x productivity? Sounds like a dream, right? Sounds like unattainable marketing speak you’ve heard 100 times before. Stand up meetings! Do emails in bulk, not as they come in! Never eat lunch at your desk! But actually, 10x productivity is very attainable, if you look at it from a holistic organisation-wide perspective. Which is easy, once you understand what it is you need to achieve.

An organisation that is highly productive is greater than the sum of its parts. Such businesses have a clear understanding of their purpose, their mission. They have an inspiring vision of the future, and a strong constructive culture that empowers and motivates employees to do great work. Finally, highly productive companies have an understanding of the core competencies that make up the foundation for a high performance work environment. They focus on productivity because its though productivity business can increase profitability, lower operating costs, reduce waste and environmental impact, improve competitiveness and increase engagement, to name just a few reasons. In the new world of work where growth for growth’s sake needs to be questioned, productivity might be the obvious replacement that organisations should be fixating over.  

Another critical element to becoming a high performance organisation is a clear understanding of waste. If you haven’t already read it, I would strongly recommend getting a hold of a copy of The Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker which sets out Toyota’s strategy in the 1980s. Toyota demonstrated the power of total quality management, just in time, and work in progress (WIP) limits, all based around constraints theory with roots in ideas proposed by American engineer, statistician, and management consultant, W. E. Deming. By interrogating every component of their organisation and aligning them, they were able to visualise what they needed to achieve in order to increase productivity. This strategy ultimately delivered a transformation in the automotive industry. 

So 10x productivity need not be a pipe dream; it’s something that with game changing strategic thinking can be made real. At least that is my hypothesis, but let me share my observations on why I have made this educated guess.

Jason Nash

Let’s look at the building blocks of the most critical aspect of today’s workplace: knowledge work.

To start, we need to understand what knowledge work is and how can we measure productivity of knowledge workers? The definition of knowledge work from Wikipedia is ‘Knowledge work can be differentiated from other forms of work by its emphasis on “non-routine” problem solving that requires a combination of convergent and divergent thinking’. Knowledge workers are therefore the people whose jobs involve handling or using information, often using a computer. And they are at the very heart of how one might deliver on 10x productivity ambitions, especially as this kind of role is undergoing significant change as technology and global pandemics continue to redefine how and where we work. 

We can measure performance as the amount of work (or output) that an employee completes during a period of time (their input). In organisations that produce physical work a simple example might be the amount of bricks a bricklayer lays in the course of a working day. However knowledge work in the service business sector can be harder to measure, although a simple example here might be the number of lines of code a software engineer produces, or the number of words a copywriter has produced.

All knowledge work falls into four different blocks: reactionary, planning, procedural, and problem-solving. Let’s go through them and highlight some pitfalls.

Reactionary Work: 

This makes up a large and growing proportion of our daily work. Reactionary work is replying to an email, or instant message. It’s often minimal value-adding and, in many cases, not particularly well-governed. For example, requests for information or tasks often go unanswered. Why? Because they disappear into inboxes with over 121 other requests on average every day (source: Radicati). Products like Slack have effectively become the equivalent of the virtual water cooler conversation, but have not necessarily increased the productivity they promised, in part because they have increased the amount of reactionary work.  The average organisation can lose up to 20% or 1 day a working week of its productive capacity (source: HBR). Now, you may think of this as naturally occurring organisational drag, but I hypothesise that much of this is down to time spent on reactionary work, and it will have increased due to new internal communication channels and distractions such as Slack and MS Teams. 

Planning work:

The next block of work is planning, relating to both near or long term plans. A lot of this work, especially long term planning, can be a form of waste. A now somewhat dated 2014 article (source: Bain) said as much as 97% of strategic planning is a waste of time in multinational companies. Yes, 97%! It’s easy for businesses to get caught in a planning loop where last year’s plan has not yet been fully executed before the new plan needs to be worked on. I know first hand how dysfunctional this can be, especially when the ideal environment for 10x productivity highlighted at the start of this 3 part essay is missing. And it’s not just the wasted hours and energy that needs to be taken into account, but the wasted employee goodwill when they see their hard work superseded before implementation.

Procedural Work: 

Procedural work can be as simple as planning out your day, ensuring you are working on the right things at the right time, or as complicated as building detailed operating procedures to ensure consistency across a team or department. It is as varied as the work demands. But as any manager knows, localised procedural work can only be effective up to a point. If clear communication strategies are not implemented business-wide, productivity decreases as time is lost due to reasons such as competing egos, misfiled documentation, and duplication of work. And procedural work can be high value, especially if it’s focused on new processes that help a business define new distinctive competencies. 

Problem Solving Work:

And the final block, problem solving work. Problem solving work, which includes training, adds the most value to our work experience by engaging and motivating us. It’s when we find new and creative pathways, which impacts on an organisation’s overall output and innovation. And yet despite how important this work is, it is often the work we spend the least amount of time doing. Why? Because it requires us to focus and ideally enter a state of flow. But how can we do that if we keep being interrupted by the above? This is why you need to focus your attention, and not just your time to truly increase personal and business productivity (source: Forbes).

So those are the types of knowledge work you and your employees wrestle with on a daily basis. In my next post I going to cover the six intersecting blocks that are fundamental to actually getting the work done and driving 10x productivity. Organisations who have found how to align these have successfully gone on to improve productivity at every level.