How to spot tech that is harming your productivity

17th January 20

In the flurry of creating a business case for the latest and greatest tech, it’s easy to get swept along by the promise of a paradise where all your current problems are solved, and everything works in wonderful harmony.

Anyone that’s been through a tech implementation will know that there are usually delays and additional costs that eat into the benefits. Yet there can be other changes that mean your productivity is being harmed, rather than helped, by your new kit.

The problem that’s easiest to spot is when implementation just doesn’t go smoothly. If you are having to do extra follow-up training that wasn’t planned, then you’ve lost hours from the value-adding work your teams do. And it happens a lot – it can be really hard to understand the impact of tech change on your teams and how they work.

One of our clients put it well when they said, they now understood that, rather than doing a tech implementation, they were actually doing a culture change that was enabled by technology – and once you realise that, you put a whole load more effort into change management.

Adding automation to processes that were manual, yet slick, can actually lead to a process slow down. We worked with a client who was trying to improve their coffee-making productivity by introducing semi-automatic coffee machines that took away the need to hand grind the beans. Rather than creating a productivity revolution that freed up time and helped them get the coffee out quicker, they actually took longer. We found that the colleagues stood and watched the machine doing its automatic grinding rather than using the time to grab the cups and get ahead in the process. It’s a bit like when my mum got her first automatic washing machine and we all sat and watched it – until the novelty quickly wore off.

If you’ve implemented new tech, don’t sign the project off as complete until you’re sure the behavioural changes that will drive the benefit are in place too.

At ReThink, we measure process and study how time is spent. We often measure system delay – the time when your teams are waiting for data to upload or watching a wheel spin on their screens. Sometimes, we see part of the process that just can’t cope with a particular combination of actions and crashes to a halt, and we see the equally productivity scenarios where the whole thing just runs too slow at everything. You’d be amazed how many businesses don’t check that their underlying capacity can cope with the new tech. We’ve just completed a study in an office where it takes 6% longer to do tasks since they’ve had a new system caused by system delay. And while 6% might not sound too bad, I bet the business case didn’t assume it would be slower, and by the time you turn it into payroll Euros, it can be a lot of money.

We can accurately diagnose and quantify where you are losing time. However, you don’t need to do workstudy to spot some causes of lost time and reduced productivity. You already have experts on where you have slow systems, jobs that cause programmes to crash and times when the system requires multiple and duplicate inputs; or when the switch from one programme to another just doesn’t work well. Just ask your team what frustrates them and slows them down.

The people who work day in and out in your processes will provide a great pointer to where your problems lie. Listening to your team and acting on their feedback doesn’t just help you find the productivity sapping tech frustrations – it helps your team feel listened to and appreciated.

Move on from a technical way of thinking about user interfaces and recognise that where human meets machine is the source of where the magic happens – or not!