Productivity. It’s an amorphous word, and a concept that seems hard to measure.
There aren’t that many businesses that have concrete measures for productivity. Knowledge work – the kind of job that most project teams do – is characterized by uncertainty, ambiguous requirements and shifting deadlines. That makes traditional measures like number of widgets built in a day irrelevant at best and misleading at worst.
At a project level it’s almost impossible to calculate productivity: who’s to say that if you only completed one project this month but you did three last month, that you aren’t getting better? Maybe this one project is 100% more profitable.
However, the benefits of knowing how productive your team is are immense. Armed with that knowledge you can plan your upcoming work, keep everyone allocated to the appropriate number of tasks without overloading them but – more importantly – cut out all the waste. Anecdotally, your team will tell you that poor process costs them productivity and that being hampered by unnecessary bureaucracy slows them down. Understanding their productivity will help you get past that and build processes that work well.
But where do you start?
Let’s boil it down. Productivity relates to how much quality work the team can do over a particular period. You need to define what that looks like for you. That could be productivity relative to other teams in your organization (“The Sales team can do this in 6 days, so why does it take us 12?”). You may find that there is benchmark data available for your industry from analysts and academics, so have a search for that too.
Pro Tip: It’s worth remembering that just because the industry benchmark is a week doesn’t mean you have to go with that. Get your process down to 3 days and you’ll have a competitive advantage!
If you have nothing else, use your professional judgement and personal standards to define would should be acceptable for your team.
Now you need some data. A good starting point is to review your processes.
Assess the Processes You Have
What processes are you expecting people to use every day? These are the ones that will either help them be productive or hinder their work, but in the first instance let’s just audit them and see what you’ve got.
Make a list. Ask your team for the processes they use repeatedly. Check your company policies and manuals and go through your project management methodology to call out the processes that are frequently used across the business.
Do A Task Assessment
Find out what tasks your team is working on and measure their performance against them. You can do this with resource management tools and time tracking. Once you’ve got enough data you’ll be able to compare performance across the team and conclude that while it takes Stephanie 8 hours to process an invoice for payment it only takes Dawn 6 hours.
Ask the Team for Feedback
Finally, just ask the team: “How productive do you think you are?” And then: “How do you know?”
It’s interesting to find out how they measure their own productivity: is it in the amount of emails they send or the results they get on their projects?
With the data from your process audit, your task assessments and your feedback from the team you can try to measure the amount of time each process takes.
Minimize Process for Better Productivity
Having carried out your process reviews you should be in a position to evaluate whether those processes are as good as they could be. Look for:
- Duplication of effort between teams
- Unnecessary process steps
- Data capture or input that then doesn’t go anywhere
Mapping out your processes with a network diagram or any visual aid, if you haven’t already, will help you see these bureaucratic time-wasting steps more easily.
You should find it relatively straightforward to identify and ditch process steps that don’t add any value or that duplicate effort. Review all the data captured in the process and make sure that something happens to it. If no one wants the data or uses it for anything, then stop recording it and save that time.
Pro Tip: Review the reports produced by your team and check that they are read and acted on by the recipients. Over time, team leaders change and their data needs change but they don’t always remember to tell you to stop producing reports they no longer need. This can lead to a huge overhead in report production for no business value.
Tools and Techniques for Improving Productivity
The best tool for improving productivity is time recording. If you do nothing else, implement time tracking for your team so you can see where they are spending their efforts.
Time recording software can help you assess and measure productivity as well as spot productivity slowdowns. It will also tell you who are the star performers – you can then buddy them up with people who aren’t doing so well and get the team to share best practice together.
You can read How to Get Started With Timesheets and then watch “How to Make Timesheets Fun,” featuring Jennifer Bridges, PMP, in the embedded video below.
The next thing you need to improve productivity is a positive attitude. The team culture should be one that:
- Supports continuous improvement
- Challenges poor performance
- Is flexible enough to accommodate changes
- Learns from its mistakes.
Unless your office environment is all these things then you’ll find it hard to implement any measures to improve productivity across the team. As a leader, you should be leading by example and making sure that you strive to be as productive as possible and to call out processes that are no longer working.
Productivity is a difficult thing to get your head around, but spend some time thinking about it and you’ll soon find ways to pick out what supports productivity in your workplace and what doesn’t.
Productivity is improved by using the right tools. Check out the online, collaborative suite of software features offered by ProjectManager.com, which enable improved visibility into project performance, timesheets and tasks. Start your free 30-day trial today.