Tuesday, May 15, 2012

3 ways to improve knowledge worker productivity

One of the simplest definitions of productivity can be found in Wikipedia:
"Productivity is a measure of the efficiency of production. Productivity is a ratio of production output to what is required to produce it (inputs). The measure of productivity is defined as a total output per one unit of a total input."
Knowledge worker productivity in the digital age is something completely different. We are still trying to figure out what it's about and how to fuel it. On the one hand, digital technologies allow us to interact with much more people and information across time and space. On the other hand, they make us more isolated and less able to use our natural communication tools such as voice and body language. They disconnect us from the physical places where we are. Yet it is the context (information in your surroundings, the situation we are in) that explains to us what we need to do, when, how and why.

The more dynamic, complex and uncertain our business environments become, the more people and information we need to be able to access and interact with. The more people and information need to be available to us, the more challenging it becomes to make them findable and easily accessible. The faster we need to produce results, the more challenging it becomes to handle the number of interactions. This is why we often find ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Simply put, knowledge worker productivity in the digital age boils down to getting the right things done as fast a possible. To improve it we need to do three things:

1. Provide enough context so we know what goes on and what we need to do in any situation. 

Simply put; we have the information that tells us what to do, when, how and why. It is all about making the right decisions, about taking the right actions.

2. Ensure that we can access and find all the resources we need.

All the information, tools and people we need must be findable and accessible in any situation. Capture and use information from interactions to improve relevance.

3. Make it as easy as possible to interact with the resources.

We should spend as little time interacting with a resource that is needed to achieve the purpose of the interaction.

Context. Access. Relevance. Simplicity.


  1. Thanks for this post.

    I would add "Relevance" as the enabler of Context, Access and Simplicity:

    As Uncertainty rules, all things cannot be prepared.

    To make sure people get relevant information in hand, a mapping can be collectively built, based on the level of proximity each person has, not with other people, but with the contexts they will manage, collaborate or cope with.

    This is a very valuable asset when time is stretch but also for everyday collaboration to provide only the relevant information to the right people (not everybody, not nobody).

    Relevance can be determined using how much someone is involved in the subjects he/she manages or collaborates.
    For example in Azendoo, using just 2 levels like "members" or "followers", with the right collective membership mechanisms, people and companies easily build, maintain and activate such a network to get self-organized, coordinate, collaborate and get work done in teams.

  2. Hi Chris, thanks for your comment. I agree with you. I was thinking relevance was implicit in 2) about access and findability, but I decided to make it explicit after your comment and add Relevance as a fourth key concept. Thanks!

  3. Hi Oscar, thanks again for your article, which makes completely sense.

    Context helps adopt the best behavior according to known or unknown situations. As uncertainty grows, context helps fill the gap between a perfect match with a procedure or a process that could be applied in some circumstances and all weak signals that can form patterns and help adapt to be agile in new situations. As Gartner says, "by 2015, 40% or more of an organization's work will be non-routine", so context is key.

    Access to information can be optimized by NOT organizing it in a unique hierarchic way set by one person, but letting people enhance accessibility collectively by enriching context (like tags).

    Simplicity is also enhanced by making sure people can coordinate easily in their everyday work, without needing to interrupt others. For example if we collaborate on a subject, we can share on a collective place where we can find what has been done, what has to be done. you can determine by yourself if I've done something, without disturbing me if not needed.

    Multiply it at an enterprise scale and you got a lightweight agile organisation that can achieve work collectively with ease and effectiveness as neer before :-)

  4. This is a great article, thanks for sharing!

    A product that I use to do all of these things efficiently and effectively is SAP StreamWork. It has tools that help provide context, connects the right people, and makes it easy to provide the information that is needed to complete goal-oriented work.