If we're going to have a conversation on productivity a definition is probably as good a place as any to start this conversation. While its a bit cliche, let's see what Mirriam-Webster define productivity as

the quality or state of being productive and they define productive as having the quality or power of producing especially in abundance

These certainly aren't the only definitions out there, but they were the first listed. What I found interesting was that they implied that abundance was necessary in order to be productive and made no reference to quality or time. This definition may be more applicable to manufacturing, but if I think about fields like IT abundance isn't always desired, especially when you're building a solution for a single client. This definition is therefore too generic for me so let's try to construct an updated definition which we can apply to our conversations going forward.

In my mind productivity is composed of three separate components

  1. Quality
  2. Time
  3. Repeatability

Quality is pretty straightforward and refers to the characteristics of the output. For example, how many bugs exist in a piece of software or how many units of your new electronics device are returned because of physical defects. The catch with quality is that it's subjective, not everyone will encounter your software bugs, or receive a broken electronics device and you can suffer from a vocal minority's opinion.

Time I'll define as how long it takes to do something, however we're not referring to just clock time. When we discuss time it will often be necessary to understand how many steps are required to complete a project or manufacture a product. It is also important to remember that less time or fewer steps doesn't always lead to better productivity, sometimes those seemingly unnecessary steps are there for a reason.

Repeatability is just that, can we consistently and accurately perform the same steps over and over. This is where we'll get into the topic of automation. In electronics manufacturing it makes sense to use automation because the steps to build a cell phone are always the same. However, if you're a woodworker hand crafting a table, automation may not be as useful. It's important to recognize when tasks can be automated to improve productivity versus where manual repetition and practice makes us more efficient in performing a task and therefore more productive.

Given these factors I would start to define productivity as

The ability or power to repeatably perform a task or create something while balancing the time (steps) to completion and overall quality

I'm sure this definition will change as I learn more, but I feel comfortable that it's a good starting point, and see where it takes us from there.

AuthorLee B Wilson