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The Wicked Productivity Problem

Spending time on non-value tasks results in reduced productivity.  But given this seems self-evident, why are non-value tasks so prevalent in our workplaces?

A not-so-recent article preview here indicates that certain knowledge worker roles can realise a 40% improvement by eliminating non-value tasks from their working day.  And while the sample size wasn’t large for this particular article, the observations about level of waste within a given working day match with our own research.

I believe the key reason why non-value tasks are so prevalent is because most organisations haven’t even got the basics of productivity right.  Perhaps management don’t realise the size of the opportunity, maybe they don’t know how to go about solving this wicked problem, or – worst of all – perhaps the management team don’t have time to focus on productivity.

It is likely that the answer is different for each unique business, but the themes  are common:

  • Without appropriate exposure mechanisms, the problem remains hidden
  • Without a target, where is the incentive to change?


So what can businesses do?  Well, productivity is a wicked problem and it’s more complicated than it sounds, but:

  • Implement a way to expose productivity issues.  Ideally, this is through a constant measurement system that fairly and accurately monitors productivity.  If this is not possible, there is always management observation – I bet the use of facebook in your workplace goes down significantly whenever the manager is around!
  • Implement targets and link rewards to their achievement.  This can be a challenge to the organisational culture, but it is vital to driving sustained improvement.  Don’t fret too much if the target seems unrealistic –  it’s difficult to hit a challenging target, but impossible to hit a target that doesn’t exist, or isn’t defined well.  You’d be surprised how many times we’ve seen a seemingly unachievable target exceeded because people’s bonus depended on it!