What does productivity look like in your organization?

I love this quote by Paul Culmsee, a friend, author, and fellow Microsoft MVP based in Perth, Australia from his book “The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices” (iUniverse):

“It is common to hear consultants wax lyrical about how we have to align SharePoint to “business goals.” While this and other popular clichés like “obtain executive support” or “obtain user buy-in” are easy to say, in practice they are much harder to do. After all, if this was not the case, then business goal alignment would not be near the top of the list for SharePoint challenges.”

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Something to add to the list of clichés is the desire to “focus on productivity.” How productive are your end users, really? And what can you do / are you doing to improve their productivity? These are difficult questions to answer. One way to improve productivity is to help reduce the churn around change. End users will lose productivity when a change occurs or when tools and technology do not match the recognized patterns of their tasks. In other words, the more you push your end users outside of their comfort zone, the more productivity is list. This happens every time a new tool is introduced, a new process is added, or an environmental change occurs.

Rarely do end users have the luxury of working inside of a single platform. Most information workers move back and forth across multiple tools and platforms during the day — from their customer relationship management (CRM) platform to email to a ticketing system to a web-based conference platform. Ensuring productivity when moving between these workloads is where many of your efficiency gains can be made.

In his book “The Goal,” author and management guru Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt talks at length about the loss of productivity during the manufacturing process as a result of machines breaking, or the downtime and retooling that is necessary as workers need to use a single machine or set of machines to accomplish different tasks over the course of the manufacturing process. Just as the need to retool and prepare machines or processes and personalities switch between manufacturing activities in the production line, switching between workloads and tools can reduce the productivity of an information worker.

We all have this idea running through our minds about what productivity means. Whether or not we think our organizations are good at getting the most out of our employees, the problem of finding a return on investment (ROI) is more fundamental than just improving our enterprise platforms (like SharePoint and Microsoft Teams). It is a recognized deficiency in many IT organizations that projects often move forward without a clear understanding of what is to be delivered, and without a clear picture of the project end state (how do we know we’ve successfully delivered the project?). Many organizations see the inherent productivity improvement that a technology platform or solution can provide, but have trouble articulating this value to management and executive sponsors, which is a serious problem and can impact the long term success of any project.

There is a definite ROI in improving productivity. Faster employee onboarding and training, for example. Or simply generating more business output or more usage of the platform, which can lead to a faster realization of the financial investments you’ve made in the platform. However, until you understand your business goals and then develop a productivity strategy that links those goals to specific end user activities or workloads AND measurable outcomes, you will not be able to easily define those perceived benefits

There are some foundational questions you can ask that will help you begin to identify your productivity goals:

How do your employees search for content, expertise, and innovation within your organization today? Don’t think about the technology, specifically, but try to understand the process that people go through to find what they need to accomplish their work today. While we rely heavily on technology, tracing the real life scenarios of employees often uncovers gaps in business processes and opportunities for automation and other improvements.

As new content, expertise, and innovation is created, how do your employees make them more ‘findable’ for future searches? This is a key component of any search strategy, but moves the activity ‘How do I find this?’ to ‘How do I make sure this can be found?’ Few organizations take the time to adequately tag or label the various content, data, and artifacts created within their system. The activity is seen as time consuming and burdensome, and yet it has the most direct impact on long term productivity.

These two questions go hand-in-hand: one optimizes the experience for how people search within your platform, while the other optimizes for the artifact so that it can be more quickly and accurately located within the search experience.

What are your employees primary workloads? Where do they “do” most of their work today, and what are the steps they follow to accomplish this work? Defining your key use cases is a critical piece of every organization’s productivity planning. Beyond searching and finding artifacts within the system, these use cases begin to define the business processes and workloads around which your system operates. Look at how your end users are working today, and look for opportunities to reduce steps, streamline workflows, and empower people to accomplish as much as possible with this few steps as possible.

Remember that a critical aspect of the productivity-centric planning process is ensuring that solutions are designed to match your end users work patterns.

How can these workloads be improved? Here is your ongoing operational change management activity. Begin by analyzing the individual workloads, and then look at efficiencies between workloads.

What is your process for operational change? The most successful efforts are defined by the quality and effectiveness of their change management processes. Improving productivity is an ongoing effort — business requirements change, end user needs change, and, of course, technology changes. No platform is ever static — people will need modifications and customizations. Have a process defined and in place to capture their feedback and requests. Make it transparent, as the more you involve people in the process, the more likely they are to accept the end results (even if what is ultimately delivered does not match their request 100%).

The goal of these questions is not shipped to prescribing methodology for change management, but to help you understand the fundamental steps within your current planning, and to identify whether the systems and tools in place today within your organization help or inhibit and user productivity. Once defined, these steps will also help you to incrementally improve on them.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP, and an award-winning product marketer and technology evangelist, based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He is the Director of North American Partner Management for leading ISV Rencore (https://rencore.com/), leads content strategy for TekkiGurus, and is an advisor for both revealit.TV and WellnessWits. He hosts the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.