A Recipe for Increased Productivity

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Consider the modern alternative:

  1. Assemble a stack of receipts (the only step required in 1985)
  2. Procrastinate, because I truly hate doing this
  3. Sort receipts
  4. Get expense report form and begin to fill it out
  5. Swear about how much I hate doing this
  6. Get interrupted by a phone call
  7. Try to figure out where I was
  8. Complete expense form
  9. Print form
  10. Do something else
  11. Wonder where the printed form went
  12. Print form again and sign it
  13. Begin to photocopy form and receipts
  14. Notice that the copier is out of paper
  15. Swear because there is no paper in sight
  16. Steal paper from a nearby printer
  17. Clear paper jam resulting from improper copier paper load
  18. Swear in colorful terms that copy machine operation was NOT why I spent seven years pursuing my computer science degree
  19. Send package to appropriate person via inter-office mail
  20. Go get coffee to celebrate ticking an unpleasant task off of my to-do list

How much effort does that transaction take? It depends. If you travel a lot, you know where the forms are and how to do this and it might only take ten to fifteen minutes. If you are an "occasional traveler," you might find that there is a learning curve each time that makes it more like twenty to thirty minutes plus the time it takes to do part of it over because you didn’t realize that this client doesn't reimburse for a beer over dinner and that needs to be backed out of the Tuesday dinner bill. Net effect: Doing this today requires ten to twenty minutes more of a professional’s time (not to mention the small bits of his or her soul consumed by the transaction) than it did thirty years ago.

Big deal, right? What's ten to twenty minutes? But how many of these kinds of transactions are we putting onto the plates of professional staff? If we assume that there are a limited number of productive hours in a week, how many are consumed by this kind of trivia? Recall that professional staff cost roughly three to five times more per hour than administrative staff. Beyond costs, consider the value of professional staff. When I worked for a large systems integrator in 1987, my billing rate was $120 per hour, i.e., I earned the company $2 per minute when I was billing clients. If four to five hours per week were consumed with trivia (ordering books, scheduling meetings, filling out expense reports, scheduling travel, clearing paper jams from the copy machine, etc.), the company lost $480-$600 in potential billings. That was roughly a week's wages for an admin—but nobody did that math. Bean counters with spreadsheets didn't account for productivity when they eliminated administrative support. The work was simply redistributed among professionals who were more expensive (and, frankly, less capable of doing the task efficiently) than the administrative staff they replaced.

Is the distribution of administrative work to professional staff the reality of your workplace? Is your organization one that is always looking for ways to work more efficiently? How much work do you find yourself doing during a typical week that could be done by a capable administrative assistant or junior tech?

About the author

Payson Hall's picture Payson Hall

Payson Hall is a consulting project manager for Catalysis Group, Inc. in Sacramento, California. Payson consults on project management issues and teaches project management. Email Payson at payson@catalysisgroup.com. Follow him on twitter at @paysonhall.

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