The Graal of greater Productivity

I read this morning on BusinessInsider.com a very nice article on the productivity secrets from the Silicon Valley startups. While coming with interesting ideas (especially the paragraph on happiness) I tend to think some key facts are missing. In my opinion, these puzzle’s missing pieces could be confusing and bring people to the wrong directions.

Current archaic model of conducting businesses and treating employees is dead. That’s for sure, but let’s not fall in a too short-term vision. A model proves to be successful after a certain period of time, it’s like in Poker, you need to be winning on the long term. Luck factor should be minimized as much as possible.

We read ten articles a day on how great Google and other Twitter-like are. They are. But let’s go deeper in the analysis and try to avoid temptation of going into the nice mirage picture. These successful companies are legitimately true sources of inspiration and paragons for many entrepreneurs. Questioning them, trying to understand what happens behind the scene, what their processes are, is a sane exercise and at the origin of many cases studies for high school students…

First note, I would not put in the same bag Google and other companies. This is irrelevant, Google rules the Internet and the world. Jeff Jarvis said it and made money with that.

Second note that I won’t develop further, but still I want to mention it. I think a distinction should be made when referring to start-ups as they involve different human behaviors:
- You work in your own company, you are at stakes. I guess it multiplies your productivity by ten
- You work in a famous start-up like the ones mentioned in the article. You have the impression of making tomorrow’s web and your proudness is a reason to be efficient and motivated in itself

Let’s move on.

My initial reaction was that clear definition and expectations around what Productivity is should be set. Again, what is productivity for a tech company? Once defined, how to measure it, which KPI to use? Be prepared, additional questions to come.

Do you want more frequent product releases with shortened time to market? Do you want better quality for the same effort? Greater number of lines of codes written? Decrease in the number of incidents & bugs ? Increased number of visitors or customers visiting your website?

To me, there is no, and should not be, unique definition of productivity. Now, ask yourself if these companies want to produce more or to adapt faster? Productivity versus adaptability.

The real objective should be to put in place all means (humans, technical, managerial, etc.) to be as adaptive as possible. You need to welcome the change. This could be a difficult mindset to build within tech companies where change could be perceived as more disruptive than positive (it takes huge efforts to design and build these solutions).  These companies are successful because they acquired in their genes the ability to evolve and adapt quickly.
Don’t get me wrong, adaptability does not mean chaos or lack of vision. You need a master plan, you need to define targets. You just need to realize when they are wrong or unrealistic. This sound trivial and not new but our relationship with Time drastically evolved over past years: a week in tech companies could in no way be compared with a week in other industries: everything can be said/communicated in a matter of seconds.

Some additional proposals to leverage 3 Ginni Chen’s secrets:
  • Define and put means to measure productivity. It all depends of your business, company structure
  • Communicating on achievements and progresses, promoting egalitarian culture between employees is wonderful. As long as you have a vision. What’s the purpose of disclosing advancements if you do not know how far you are from your target?
  • Overall you need to let people focus on what they do best. You want them to be part of the adventure, you put trust in them and don’t want them to lose time in cumbersome tasks such as time tracking or reporting activities. Get rid of all impediments
  • You need to have a culture of innovation and be pragmatic: you can (and will) fail, but fail fast and cheapPrototyping should become your new motto
  • Let’s be frank, these companies have smart people, and in some ways this is reinsuring! While there’s no recipe, having inspirational leader, being brave, having creme de la creme engineers might not be sufficient. Even with this there’s no guarantee of success. I truly believe that these companies, even when composed of very few members, have overall multi-disciplinary skills teams. That’s what it takes to correctly interpret and deal with all events that occur when running a tech company
  • Listen to your clients. Your company wants to become both employee and customer centric (btw avoid putting engineering processes over customers). The principle driving your decisions should be a constant seek for value. Having said this I hope you realize how crucial it is to define what value means for you and above all to your customers or users. Productivity is a mean, not an end in itself

As a conclusion and in order to have the full picture I think we should be studying why similar companies failed. Some of them even succeeded without necessarily sticking to this model (e.g. Craig’s list). On the hundreds of startups dying every years, are there some lessons to learn on what should not be done?

What do you think?

About the Author

Donald Havas

French technical evangelist and blogger with extensive working experience in the technology industry field (corporate IT, professional services and product development). Passionate about software development processes, innovation, new technology & industry trends and the gaming industry. And promoting simplicity and pragmatism on top of everything.

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