A Recipe for Increased Productivity

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As the economy begins to improve, we all need to find ways to "work smarter, not harder." One of the things many organizations need to consider as they try to increase productivity includes adding administrative support in order to leverage existing staff by freeing them up to do more of the high-value work they do best. Think of the implications to a typical team of five mid-level to senior technical people. Assume everyone on the team has an average of thirty hours per week of project time (excluding holidays, vacations, training, sick time, etc.) and that five hours of that time is spent each week doing necessary, but low-skilled, low-value work, including administrative tasks and entry level technical tasks, like installing workstation software or typing test data. In this example, across the team of five there are 150 hours of available resources in a week, and twenty-five hours (almost 20 percent) of the time is spent doing low value work. If we assume hiring an administrative person would allow the transfer of four of the five hours of non-essential work, then hiring an admin would result in a net savings of twenty hours of professional staff time each week, which is about two-thirds of the productivity gain that we might expect from adding another senior person to the team.

What makes more sense to you? Hiring a mid-level staff person who costs $75,000 to $150,000 per year, increases the size and complexity of the team, and has a one to three month learning curve before we see significant productivity gains; or hiring a hungry young admin or tech for $20,000 to $30,000 per year to offload low value work from your team with a minimal learning curve?

Unless you see flaws in the assumptions above, the cost effective solution seems obvious. Your organization could even experiment with this solution in a low risk way by bringing in a temp worker for a few months to assess the impact on team morale and throughput. Think of this the next time someone asks you, "What can we do to cost effectively improve productivity?" For years our answer has been to hire more technical staff, oblivious to Brooks' Law ("Adding programmers to a late software project makes it later," from The Mythical Man-Month). Bringing in administrative support might be a solution worth exploring.

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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