Why Personal Productivity Doesn't Lead To Team Productivity

It's possible for members of an IT team to have high personal productivity without it actually translating to high organizational productivity. Here's a look at the difference and how IT leaders can better align the two.

Economists tell us productivity is the key to wage and income growth. As a country becomes more productive through increasing output faster than input, it should translate into more income per person. With the exponential growth of information technology in the last decade, much of it geared towards improving productivity, it would stand to reason that growth in productivity should be higher than ever. However, productivity growth from 2010 to 2015 has averaged 0.03% per year - almost zero. We don't really know why this paradox exists at the macro level but there are quite a few logical guesses.  

 

Personal vs. Organizational Productivity

However at an organizational level, we can see how increased personal productivity via information technology may not always translate into organizational productivity. Personal productivity is the output each of us can generate with our own input; generally referred to as time. Information technologies such as email, chat, mobile, apps and software, along with productivity improvement methods, enable us as individuals to deliver higher output. At the organizational level, however, productivity is typically measured where output and input are $ (revenue and profit growth).  

 

Misalignment for an IT Group

How does personal productivity not translate into organizational productivity? Let's imagine we are able to design our day and use tools and methods allowing us to be fully productive at the tasks we're doing on a daily basis. Wouldn't that mean our organization is also being productive? Not necessarily. Especially, if the efforts we're working on individually aren't the sort of high value tasks that translate into revenue and/or profit growth for the company. From an IT group perspective, if you're not delivering output on tasks that are, more or less, directly related to the company's strategic goals, you're not really being organizationally productive.  

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For an IT group, most senior resources are involved in both keeping the current systems running and also helping the business achieve growth and innovation through Information Technology. Keeping systems running is essential but it doesn't necessarily help grow customers, keep customers or gain a competitive advantage in the market and thus, is often deemed as of lower value. Digital transformation is on the minds of every business leader, not because they are technology geeks, but because they see it as a requirement to play in today's game, especially if they want to grow. It is viewed as the highest value priority for many companies and their leadership.   


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So to achieve real productivity from an organizational standpoint, IT leaders need their senior resources to focus more time on the expansion and transformation of the business, rather than just keeping systems running. Yet, even a finely tuned staff, who at an individual level are adeptly productive in keeping systems running, will have challenges meeting the actual output goals of the company. Being personally productive at low value tasks does not translate to organizational productivity. The missing element in the equation is strategic alignment.

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Improving Organizational Productivity
"What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important"

-Dwight D. Eisenhower

This quote was a guiding factor in developing the decision matrix attributed to Eisenhower. The distinction between urgent and importance rather than lumping them together is the basis for the 4 quadrant decision matrix used to improve personal productivity. This is something we can adapt to the organizational level and get the same results as well. By determining which quadrant a task can be assigned will help identify it as crisis, strategic, distraction or elimination.   

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Asking three questions will identify the best quadrant for each of the tasks your team is assigned:

1. Is it due soon or later? - due soon is urgent and due later is not urgent.
2. Does the task help achieve the company's long term goal? - if yes it is important and if not it is less important 
3. Is the task related to the resources core specialty? - yes it's important and if no it is less important

 

The Sweet Spot is Quadrant 2 - Strategic

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The total time for the team can be defined as the aggregate time of all the tasks for each quadrant. As an IT leader your goal should be to spend more time in Q2 - Strategic, and less time in each of the others. Why? Easy answer. That's the only set of tasks that are meaningful to the business outside of the IT group. Yes, keeping existing systems running, stable and available is important, but as anyone in IT will tell you, it's an expectation of the business that all systems be running. You get no credit for maintaining the status quo as difficult as it may be. Scheduled maintenance and other tasks in the Distraction quadrant are off the radar of the business altogether. 

Any tasks that are assigned into Q4 should be considered for elimination - not urgent and not important. If for some reason they are needed then better to delegate them away from Senior resources with more critical core responsibilities.  

Q3 is labeled distraction only from the perspective of the Senior resource. Most likely, they are tasks that help reduce the number of IT crisis events and keep systems running.  Primarily tasks related to maintenance, user provisioning, code deployment, and monitoring. They are typically repeatable with documented steps that either can be automated or delegated to non-core senior resources or an external firm that specializes in this area.  

Q1 - Crisis, can be minimized by spending more time in Q2 - Strategic by improving and adding new more robust technology and strengthening the maintenance aspects of Q3.

 

The Appreciated IT Leader

If you focus on giving your team more time for strategic initiatives it's hard to see the downside:

  • Business is more happy as transformation and innovation leads to growth and profits.
  • Senior resources spend more time on their core talent working on tasks that achieve company goals rather than dealing with the daily and perhaps hourly distractions that take them away from using their primary expertise.
  • Happy Business and Happy Team means Happy IT Leader

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