How to Measure Knowledge Worker Output? Metrics?

What is productivity?

I quite like this definition:

The quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services

Productivity is also a measure in economics; being a ratio of production output to what is required to produce it.

In purely economic terms that’s an easy measure to make – an organisation spends x to produce good that it sells for y meaning that it’s productivity is simply y/x. But that’s really poor measure to use within an organisation or between individuals or teams, especially when the goods and services aren’t monetary in value.

For a long time now the productivity of knowledge workers has been measured by other outputs, the primary one being the document. The measure of cost being the number of hours required to produce it. I’ve worked on numerous projects where the planning process has primarily consisted of repeatedly asking the question “how long will it take to write this xyz report?” The cost of the project being the sum total of the time required to write the documents. The measured output being a set of documents.

But it’s not the document that people want!

A document is simply a way of recording and transferring information. What’s really wanted are the insights, the information, the knowledge.

Using the measure of the document creates all sorts of distortions. The distortion that I regularly come across can be characterised by the phrase “never mind the quality feel the width”. Because it’s the document itself that is being measured then a document it is that will be produced. There is a hidden viewpoint that reasons the size of the document should be proportional to the amount of time spent on it.

Einstein (possibly) once said:

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

This gets forgotten when time is allocated to a document. I’ve never seen a published hours to pages ratio, but there is a hidden pressure on the author to make the work look credible by providing an appropriate volume of words to support the amount of time spent.

It’s not the number of pages that makes a document more valuable than another, it’s the insight that it contains.

I’m not sure I have too many answers here, but I have been intrigued by people looking to metrics to try and find an answer. The latest has been Chris Dancy now at BMC who has made it his mission to measure all sorts of elements of his life:

Dancy is connected to at least three sensors all day, every day. Sometimes, it’s as much as five. They measure his pulse, his REM sleep, his skin temperature, and more. He also has sensors all over his house. There’s even one on his toilet so he can look for correlations between his bathroom habits and his sleep patterns.

From Wired.

Dancy’s view is interesting:

Soon, Dancy says, companies will start tracking their employees in much the same way he tracks himself. They have no choice. “Enterprise needs new measurements of success for knowledge workers. Today’s knowledge work is measured in really inappropriate ways,” he says.

From Wired.

Dancy doesn’t think that all tracking is necessarily positive, but he’s fatalistic about the future. Even if workers reject more Orwellian surveillance from employers — or companies determine these measures to be counter productive — individual workers will likely use self-tracking to gain a competitive edge.

Perhaps new metrics and “quantified self” are the way forward, but personally that makes me shiver. Most people struggle to adequately compensate for the impact of technology in their life today.

I’m not sure whether I’m ready for this level of immersion but change is on the way, that’s for sure.

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