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When one is trying to increase productivity, there are 3 areas of particular interest:

  1. hours worked
  2. tasks completed per hour worked
  3. unit of impact per task completed

Hours Worked

The company culture where you work sets the tone for how many hours you work. Startups tend to value long hours, but plenty of larger companies do too. Adding more hours can be very effective in the short-run, but in the long-run the gains can be elusive, as people shift more of their personal chores and relaxation time into their work hours in order to satisfy the expectation that they are in the office all the time, while still striking the balance that they prefer. There are plenty of tools to counterbalance the distractions and keep focused, from inspired goals to deadlines to pressure from a boss, but they don’t scale well. My guess is that its unusual to find a (knowledge worker) organization that can sustain gains from long hours when properly accounting for hours not working (but in the office!), the cost of management time to maintain a long hours culture, and the costs of employee churn.

Tasks Per Hour

Getting more done per unit of effort is the realm of Scrum, tools, process, and organization design. Scrum Retrospectives can be an especially powerful tool for uncovering inefficiency and fixing it. The improvements made to efficiency form a virtual cycle, freeing up more time and accelerating further improvements, all while making faster progress on the roadmap than before. Unlike increasing Hours Worked there’s no real tradeoff, everyone wins, the gains are sustainable and they often scale even further than Hours Worked.

Impact Per Task

Choosing the right projects to work on is the hardest place to gain efficiency, but in many organizations its also the biggest opportunity, offering 2-10x the gains that the other two approaches do. Scrum teams measure backlog Velocity to help them stay focused on roadmap progress instead of getting side tracked on other tasks. Lean Startup teams release early and often, minimizing the cost of learning so they can double down on the ideas that actually work in the marketplace. 1 in 1000 startups succeed past their first year. Imagine if you could increase that to 2 or 3 or more…the possible gains of picking the winners and NOT paying for the losers are big.