Commentary - Right now, 60 percent of the US and Global workforce is made up of knowledge workers; it's predicted by 2012 there will be a 6 percent difference between the demand and supply for information workers. Even today, with U.S. unemployment in the high single digits many companies struggle to hire qualified workers. These workers are expensive to hire, train and retain – and there are few proven methods to maximize their productivity.
Although virtual teams, off-shoring and on-shoring make global talent available to any size enterprise, finding, training and optimizing this talent is time consuming and risky. Supply constraints and costs are forcing executives to the rethink managing their current work force and focusing employees on the parts of their job that drive results, while eliminating the redundancy of repetitive tasks, coordinating across time and geography, maintaining real-time insight into activities and issues while eliminating the biggest time suck of them all - the status meeting.
The next productivity push will come from optimizing how information workers collaborate, communicate and complete their work. Even the smallestenterprise can have global customers and employees - and executives need current information about the work being conducted by their company. Optimizing thework of educated, information professionals comes from giving those workers a streamlined process to organize their work and the work of others – and having that process generate the information needed by executives to manage their enterprise.
In today’s connected, always-on world, this process is possible with cloud-based technologies that transform listless days into a sharpened, goal-oriented productive days, with visibility up and down the organization. Here are some key ideas to make that happen:
Information professionals are all project managers now
Nobody works in isolation anymore – projects move quickly throughout the organization with different people responsible for different tasks. With off-shoring and partners, projects even move outside the organization. While most knowledgeworkers don't think about themselves as project managers, they are. Shiftingyour organization away from individual tasks to project management will increase productivity. Information worker management is about orchestration, not micro-management. Hire, train and orchestrate using the right tools. Email, spreadsheets and traditional project management software are great solutions but are static and often require a full time person just to keep up to date. This is not efficient and cannot be real-time.
Collaboration is changing
It's an abused term, but collaboration is more relevant today than ever. There's a generational gap between how people collaborate now and in the past. Rigid tracked-changes and chain-of-approval are giving way to fluid consulting and a focus on the end product. Adaptability is crucial in employees and expected of companies. Remember, the next generation of workers is already sharing their entire lives on Facebook, they're looking to replicate that experience both as clients and as employees as well.
Even with all the change in how people interact, the necessity of knowing the progress, issues and resource utilization within companies large and small is paramount. Prudent management requires thoughtful use of resources – and when your resources are the minds of your people, optimization is not about speeding up an assembly line by having parts next to it (an innovation that drove great efficiencies in Japanese manufacturing in the second half of the 20th century). Thoughtful use of information workers requires real-time information and full transparency in sharing it.
Create visibility without devoting time to status updates
Status updates – via email, a meeting, a PowerPoint deck - kill productivity. Information workers spend countless hours gathering information, preparing and presenting about their work rather than DOING their work. If information about their work and the deliverables from their work is visible and available to their team and their leadership, information workers free more time to do the work and thoughtfully analyze information. This leads to more efficiency and to moreengaged and motivated information professionals. Every information professional values knowing what their colleagues are doing and how it will impact theirwork. We all want to know the status, but we don’t have the time to waste building materials just to convey it. It should be conveyed by the work execution process.
In manufacturing, many companies used to do quality review at the end of the production cycle. It was a tedious exercise and when something was found, the point where the breakdown was often difficult to determine so the quality of the products suffered. When Edwards Deming identified that testing throughout the manufacturing process and identifying an issue AS SOON AS IT HAPPENS would result in both higher quality and lower costs, the American auto manufacturers rejected him. The Japanese embraced him. We know the end of the story.
Status meetings are the quality control of information workers – they happen after the product is created and are outside the natural process of doing the work. They add time to the process and when an issue is identified, delays are magnified because the issue “waited” until the status meeting. Imagine instead a process where issues are apparent in progress and status is always available. Managers can assist (or intervene) when an issue arises rather than later. Managers can reallocate resources and change timelines as work requires. And status meetings transform into brainstorming and collaboration sessions where information workers stimulate each other through dialogue to best approach the projects.
Build visibility into the work process and not only will productivity go up, but this new data will allow you to plan for future work and devote resources more effectively.
Trust the cloud
Information workers work from everywhere – even if your entire team lives and works within five miles of each other (does anyone?), they work from home, from flights, from conferences. And since most of us deal with remote employees, they may be working in different time zones, languages and continents. The world is flat and the cloud is the only scalable way to orchestrate the 21st century enterprise.
Moving to the cloud is the fastest and most secure way to centralize information and create visibility into your organization. Cloud applications scale better than native applications, making them more cost effective and much easier to include vendors or consultants on specific projects without granting access to your whole network.
Insist on security and privacy from your cloud applications. Not only should security and privacy be available and configurable, but the very distribution model that makes the cloud scale adds to your security and quality cloud application providers invest heavily in physical and digital security. Most real threats are internal and come from …passwords. Cloud applications have the ability to turn off access instantly for any employees who leaves your company.
Taking the step into the next generation of productivity involves a shift to understanding all knowledge workers are project managers, working across teams and dependent on the real-time information to do their jobs. Once you break free from the structures of the past – like the status meeting – and give workers the tools to become real-time project manager and worker, you’ll realize a new level of productively and gain visibility into your organization without relying on a fickle talent pool or cyclical job market.
Avinoam Nowogrodski is CEO of Clarizen makers of work execution software. Prior to his current role, Avinoam co-founded SmarTeam Corporation, where he saw the need for better project management and work execution tools. After SmarTeam was acquired by Dassault Systemes (DS) Avinoam served on the DS General Executive Management team for 6 years. before founding Clarizen.