Productivity improvement is one of the prime focus areas in the business world. But the business world is littered with dead documents that do nothing but waste people’s time. Reports no one reads, diagrams no one looks at, and specs that never resemble the finished product. These things take forever to make but only seconds to forget. You might have seen offices full of record files. The worst thing about these record files is you cannot search your required content. A high amount of time is being spent to get the input from these files.
Remove Layers of Abstraction
If you need to explain something, try getting real with it. Instead of describing what something looks like, draw it. When you explain something, other people start imagining it. Their imagination and your explanation might be completely different. It’s better you draw it or use some other analogy for easy understanding for all. Similarly instead of explaining what something sounds like, hum it. Do everything you can to remove layers of abstraction.
The problem with abstractions (like reports and documents) is that they create illusions of agreement. A hundred people can read the same words, but in their heads, they’re imagining a hundred different things. That’s why you want to get to something real right away. That’s when you get a true understanding. It’s like when we read about characters in a book—we each picture them differently in our heads. But when we actually see people, we all know exactly what they look like.
“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker
#1, When the team at Alaska Airlines wanted to build a new Airport of the Future, they didn’t rely on blueprints and sketches. They got a warehouse and built mock-ups using cardboard boxes for podiums, kiosks, and belts. The team then built a small prototype in Anchorage to test systems with real passengers and employees. The design that resulted from this getting-real process has significantly reduced wait times and increased agent productivity.
#2, Widely admired furniture craftsman Sam Maloof felt it was impossible to make a working drawing to show all the intricate and fine details that go into a chair or stool. “Many times I do not know how a certain area is to be done until I start working with a chisel, rasp, or whatever tool is needed for that particular job,” he said.
That’s the path we all should take. Get the chisel out and start making something real. Anything else is just a distraction.
It’s easy to put your head down and just work on what you think needs to be done. It’s a lot harder to pull your head up and ask why. Here are some important questions to ask yourself to ensure you’re doing work that matters:
Why are you doing this? Ever find yourself working on something without knowing exactly why? Someone just told you to do it. It’s pretty common, actually. That’s why it’s important to ask why you’re working on this. What is this for? What’s the motivation behind it? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you better understand the work itself. Your focus will be much better in such cases.
What problem are you solving? What’s the problem? Are customers confused? Are you confused? Is something not clear enough? Was something not possible before that should be possible now? Sometimes when you ask these questions, you’ll find you’re solving an imaginary problem. That’s when it’s time to stop and reevaluate what the hell you’re doing.
Is this actually useful? Are you making something useful or just making something? It’s easy to confuse enthusiasm with usefulness. Sometimes it’s fine to play a bit and build something cool. But eventually, you’ve got to stop and ask yourself if it’s useful, too. Cool wears off. Useful never does.
Are you adding value? Adding something is easy; adding value is hard. Is this thing you’re working on actually making your product more valuable for customers? Can they get more out of it than they did before? Sometimes things you think are adding value actually subtract from it. Too much ketchup can ruin the fries. Value is about balance.
Will this change behavior? Is what you’re working on really going to change anything? Don’t add something unless it has a real impact on how people use your product. I have seen that many a time one department (service) starts making a product that will be used by another department (user) without taking any input from them while designing it. The result! that product is never owned by the user department.
Is there an easier way? Whenever you’re working on something, ask, “Is there an easier way?” You’ll often find this easy way is more than good enough for now. Problems are usually pretty simple. We just imagine that they require hard solutions. In offices there are some highly vocal, hard-core technical people, if you are asking them the solution of a project problem, which is not so complex, they will provide you ideas that may completely derail the project.
What could you be doing instead? What can’t you do because you’re doing this? This is especially important for small teams with constrained resources. That’s when prioritization is even more important. If you work on A, can you still do B and C before A? If you’re stuck on something for a long period of time, that means there are other things you’re not getting done.
Is it really worth it? Is what you’re doing really worth it? And is this meeting worth pulling six people off their work for an hour? Or, is it worth pulling an all-nighter tonight, or could you just finish it up tomorrow? Is it worth getting all stressed out over a press release from a competitor? Is it worth spending your money on advertising? Determine the real value of what you’re about to do before taking the plunge.
Keep asking yourself and also others these questions for productivity improvement. You don’t need to make it a formal process, but don’t let it slide, either. Also, don’t be timid about your conclusions. Sometimes abandoning what you’re working on is the right move, even if you’ve already put in a lot of effort. Don’t throw good time after bad work. (Content credit to the book ‘Rework’ by Jason Fried)