Productivity improvement is not about working harder or faster

Productivity improvement is not about working harder or faster- Harini.jpg
We sometimes forget that competition is not inside the organization. It is out there! Therefore, making it imperative to collaborate and work as one.

Better Reflect and Rapid, Than Fast and Furious!

Productivity improvement is not about working harder or faster. It may not even be just about working smarter if one is too individual focussed. We sometimes forget that competition is not inside the organization. It is out there! Therefore, making it imperative to collaborate and work as one. Isn’t it true that “If we want to walk fast, we walk alone? But if we want to walk far, we walk together”

In a certain kingdom, there was once a sword maker and he was the best sword maker one could ever find. His swords were the sharpest and the most precisely crafted. The king was intrigued by his expertise and invited him to his court. The swordmaker was thrilled at the opportunity of meeting the king and reached the court with some of his best swords.

The swords were passed on for everyone to see and after a lot of awe, appreciation, and applause, the king asked, “How is it that there is no one to beat you in this craft?” The sword maker replied, “Oh King! It is very simple. I am so focused that I see sword-making in everything I do. Even if I am sleeping all I can dream of is swords. Even when I cut vegetables to cook I cut them to look like swords. So much is my focus that if things don’t look like swords, I walk away from that activity”.

The king was wise to see that in an attempt to improve excellence, the sword maker was not able to appreciate other things around him! He was missing out on leveraging things around him and would soon reach burnout! This anecdote reminded me of how our traditional performance processes push people to work harder to improve productivity. We have gone so far away in this mad rat race that

Now let’s look at what happens at the workplace in our traditional attempts at improving individual productivity. These include clearing clutter, adding colour, taking short breaks, keeping a ‘to-do’ list, populating the ‘urgent vs important’ matrix, delegating tasks, etc. The list is endless and you will also notice that it is individual-focused. It is worth reflecting on this. Is too much focus on individuals the seed of developing siloes? So, how about looking at ways of improving productivity through collaboration? Will controls and processes help in reducing chaos or will cause bottlenecks? Are our processes based on trust or on suspicion?

When productivity is all about collaboration and flexibility, agile ways of working are worth exploring. For a deeper understanding of how agile works, let’s get down to a few basics and break a few myths. Agile ways of working are not restricted to the software industry anymore and are actually sweeping across the world! However, one could argue that Agile is not suitable for all businesses or industry sectors. But when one looks at the core of Agile values, it is nothing but collaboration by working with people instead of sticking to processes and flexibility in adapting to changes in the environment. Here are 5 myth-busting facts that advocate agile as a way towards productivity improvement.

Myth 1: Agile rapid and recklessly

Fact: One of the key Agile rituals is the ‘retrospective’. Here is where the team looks back and reflects on what went well, what didn’t, and what can be done differently. This inspires course correction if required and identify roadblocks that need to be cleared. It is better to fail early than to fall at the end!

Myth 2: Agile is “no goal – no vision”

Fact: Sometimes traditional thinking expects us to make flawless plans and stick to them. But in reality, the road may not be as smooth and plans can fail. Agile helps us navigate the journey in short Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycles. Manoeuvre by adapting to the environment and adopting suitable methods is key. Flexibility is not about losing sight of the goal!

Myth 3: Agile creates Jacks of all trades and masters of none!

Fact: Agile teams are cross-functional and they work as a team towards a common goal. The rituals of agile are conducted in a manner that each member talks about his / her action toward the planned goal. Since these rituals are conducted in a levelled non-hierarchical manner, there is no blame game. Team members that have clarity of each other’s roles can empathize better and deal with resource crunches better!

Myth 4: Agile teams are just for diversity in thought

Fact: The composition of agile teams is an important aspect. Every skill that is required for the goal to be achieved needs to be there in the team with a balanced representation of every function. It is not about just showing diversity in teams but about being immersive so that the team does not have external dependencies for decision-making. Diversity is immersive in agile teams and not just indicative! Teams that can solve problems by themselves are more productive.

Myth 5: Agile simplifies processes and hence dilutes output

Fact: Last but never least, agile ways of working are outcome-focused and not output focussed. The team composition and the agile rituals clearly demonstrate collaboration. Agile is all about simplifying the ways of working by removing unnecessary tasks without diluting value to the end user.

Reflecting on Einstein’s words, “We can’t solve problems with the same skills we used to create them”, let’s look back to move forward. Continuous experimentation, early failures, and enlightenment from them lead us to a surer and better outcome. After all, productivity is all about robust outcomes and not about completing tasks.


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