Empowerment at the heart of productivity management
11th Feb 2020

New twist in measuring productivity in digital age

The challenge of measuring productivity has taken on a new twist in the digital age. One company has tackled the challenge and come up with new ways of solving an ongoing problem. Kathy Gibson found out more

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution becomes a reality, the nature of work – and the workplace itself – is changing. It’s becoming more difficult for managers to figure out the key performance indicators (KPIs) they should be using to measure their staff’s productivity. Indeed the whole definition and meaning of productivity is changing as well.

“The workplace has become far more digital, so the work people are doing, and the way they do it has to change too,” says Graham Fry, founder of Saucecode. “And that means the way we measure work productivity has got to change.”

He explains that we have gone from producing something tangible and easy to monitor to producing computer based outcomes, from data clerks and switchboard operators to applications and services and everything in between.

It’s easy to measure physical outputs. “If you are producing, for example 100 cups an hour, then that is your rate of efficiency.

“But as we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the world of big data, it’s become harder to measure efficiency.”

It’s not even accurate to measure outcomes, he adds. “Someone could be at work, and on their computer, but they could be playing a game, whilst a script produces the required output for the day’s work.”

“So just because people are at work, or producing outcomes, they are not necessarily being efficient in terms of the business’s requirements.”

Productivity is measured by two things, Fry says: outcome and efficiency.

“The physical output gives us a result, but was the worker and the work done efficiently executed? That’s what we mean by productivity today. The employee who fired off the script was productive in that he got a result, but the machine was doing the work. How was work time spent during this period of time? He could have spent the entire time the machine was working reading personal email or surfing non-work related Internet, or he could have spent that time preparing the next script – that would have been far more efficient use of his work time.”

It’s when organisations understand these subtle distinctions that they will start getting better return on investment (ROI) in their people and assets, Fry believes.

However there is a huge disconnect between what employees spend their days doing, and the most efficient way of doing it, he adds.

“There is a gap between management and employees. Speak to these employees  and they will tell you how busy they are, how hard they work, and how much they do. Managers have a different perception and will typically tell you how disappointed they are in what the workers are producing.

“What’s happening is that you have an efficiency problem: the worker is seeing the effort; but the manager sees the inefficiency and the loss of company productivity.”

This disconnect is responsible for a lot of frustration, as well as a lot of wasted time and money.

“People typically want to work, and they are trying hard to do their work – but their managers still see them as time-wasters. If the managers knew how to help the employees, they could raise efficiencies to get a better ROI for the company.

“My perception of the average worker has changed, from believing the average employee approaches work with an attitude less than desired, to the average employee does apply himself but is quite  inefficient and needs better guidance on how to work.”

And the bigger the organisation, the worse the problem is, Fry adds. “With large corporates, inefficiencies start to breed new inefficiencies and they impact on one another.”

There is a very real need for a new way of monitoring and measuring productivity: one that lets managers pick up inefficiencies, for instance where a slow worker might be holding the rest of the team up; or where inefficiencies are being fed in from other teams or even from a team that’s not composed of optimal team-mates.

“When you know what the work is, you can see how it’s being done,” Fry explains. “You can see where efficiency could be increased and – importantly – how you can help workers to be more efficient. Management can get closer to the employee to really understand their requirements, and to help them become more productive and efficient.”

It’s not enough to simply monitor what people are doing: this data must relate to outcomes and efficiency; and building a pool of data over time will allow management to tweak the working environment and work measures on the fly.

“Big data and analytics is key to staying ahead in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Fry says. “Once organisations have the big data available, they can start changing the way they see their investment in people and assets.”

We tend to think that our productivity levels in South Africa are poor compared to the rest of the world, but Fry says this simply isn’t true anymore. “The average person is trying to work – but sometimes they are working hard but not being very efficient.

“This is a worldwide problem – name one project that ran smoothly, on time and in budget anywhere, those are genuinely few and far in between.”

Sure, there are people who are not working hard, doing other work or doing double work. “But, on average, people are coming to work and are just not as efficient as they could or should be. And wherever you go in the world, organisations are looking for ways to measure productivity.”

It is this very real business need that led Saucecode to develop a software tool, Tistro, that helps managers to monitor and measure both their and employees real output and efficiency, and to analyse that data to assist in business decision-making.

“The ability to granularly analyse big data means we can start measuring the productivity and efficiency of people – not just in the physical world, but in the computer-based world.”

This isn’t as easy as measuring productivity in an outcomes-based environment where physical goods are produced.

“What we need to measure is whether people came to work, but watched or engaged in non-work related activities while the computer did the work; or did they get the computer started while they carried on with other work-related activities? Are they working in the right applications? And working efficiently in those applications?

“We can get a picture of who the most efficient employees are, analyse their profile, application and work methods to get an idea of how to help all employees to become more efficient at their work requirements and outputs. Assisting them in achieving their KPI’s and at the same time delivering more efficiencies for the business. It’s a win-win combination.”

Measuring and managing productivity means that organisations must come up with new ways to measuring work and efficiency.

“Traditionally, we would measure how long people were at work – not whether they were efficient or productive, relying on the employee to tell us how productive they are, telling us what they did every day (usually with a bias slant). There are some tools that let you measure how long the computer was on for: but that doesn’t mean the employee was productive.

“We need to start measuring on a much more granular level that shows us what people are working on, and whether they are being efficient.”

Of course, many jobs require people to do non system based activities, even spend time thinking, researching off site meetings etc – none of which can be measured by a computer-based tool – but Fry says these elements can be factored into efficiency metrics for different work types or profiles.

“The KPIs are changing: what we’re measuring is productivity and efficiency to a defined output, but also what makes employees productive and efficient,” Fry says.

Saucecode used its own TISTRO tool to figure out the most productive and efficient way of running its development business.

For a few weeks, Fry measured developer employees’ productivity in the normal office environment and then allowing them to work from home, only to find efficacy and productivity increased when working from home.

“On the 15th of that month, I made the decision that all the developers should work at home full time,” he says. “I realised from the data that I couldn’t afford not to have them working at home because, when they came into the office, productivity declined as a result of many factors associated with it: smoke breaks/coffee increased by number and duration; and productive hours decreased when people worked from the office, to mention some of the more obvious changes.

“In fact, a poor productivity day now is still better than the best productivity we had when they were coming into the office.”

What this shows, Fry points out, is that accurate measurement and analytics can help managers make informed decisions about their staff and business.

“You can now make business decisions, based on real data allowing you to predict and monitor the impact of the decisions.” “You can start doing scenario planning; allowing you to see the RIO – or not – in any business changes. By working with accurate data and the associated analysis thereof, you can set the right rules and targets before the implementation of any decision.”

You can view the full interview with Graham Fry here.

More about Saucecode and Tistro

Saucecode is a software development and innovation company that employs cutting-edge technologies including robotics to create business applications and products that deploy into a variety of industries.

Software applications are based on Saucecode’s intellectual property (IP) and available under license for general market consumption.

The company addresses a number of areas of development: Internet of Things (IoT); Web development; web and native app development; e-commerce; distributed software and API development; user experience (UX); artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

Tistro is a general business software application that delivers the ability to measure, monitor and manage time and productivity, helping business to truly understand the productivity and behavior within their user base in order to monitor, manage, enhance and even automate time and productivity outputs.

The application will improve user performance, aid in user appraisals and assist in optimising user work methods and training. It will also allow an organisation to manage employee’s wellbeing through identifying work life imbalances.

Tistro allows line management and human resources departments to review users work performance and work loading on an ongoing basis to establish any behavior anomalies that could affect productivity. The application’s main benefit to any business is that it saves thousands of man hours by optimizing the performance management process and having the full control of project time and budget utilisation.

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