A commonly quoted statistic on employee productivity is that the average US worker is productive for 2 hours and 48 minutes each day, and the average UK worker is productive for 2 hours and 58 minutes daily.
That’s not much “bang for the buck” for companies, and for those of us in IT, where the hours are long and the tasks demanding, I’d have to argue against that statistic.
Nevertheless, there are historic “sink holes” that IT falls into where time gets wasted. This should concern CIOs, and anyone who works in IT.
Here are five common areas in which IT loses efficiency and staff time, along with some suggestions on how to reduce them:
1. Software maintenance
IT departments continue to spend at least 50% of their development time on software maintenance. This is maintenance on old systems that continue to get patched so they stay running, but it can also be newer systems that haven’t been thoroughly debugged and tested before they are deployed.
Look at the IT Help Desk log. Which applications are breaking most often and why? Is there a way to permanently repair them, or is it better to do a “rip and replace?” Second, how strong is your QA process? Do new applications tend to get thrown over the wall into QA and then forgotten by the developer? And if they must be fixed in production, do the maintenance programmers have all of the documentation on these programs needed to make the fix? A review (and revision) of app development, QA, deployment, and maintenance procedures might be in order.
2. Poor collaboration between end users and IT
A user wanted a system that could quickly calculate ration formulas for a herd of cattle -- but he never dreamed he would have to drill down through four layers of menus to input herd parameters. The algorithms performing the calculations were flawless -- but the overall app was not user friendly. Consequently, the entire application had to be redone, and it took six months instead of six weeks to implement it.
Use application prototyping that shows the look and feel of an application as well as its functionality --and actively engage your users from the start of application development through deployment so there are no surprises.
3. Unproductive Meetings
Atlassian, a software development company, reported that an average of 62 meetings were attended by most employees on a monthly basis and that half of this meeting time was deemed by employees to be wasted.
Organize meetings carefully and issue an agenda prior to each meeting so participants come prepared to discuss the agenda talking points and to make decisions. If you get into a meeting where a subset of the participants enters into an extended debate with everyone else sitting on the sidelines, table that discussion for later review outside of the meeting and continue with other meeting agenda items. If the meeting itself devolves into an unproductive session, immediately end it.
4. Burnout and absenteeism
In October 2020, 70% of Silicon valley’s work-at-home workforce said they were experiencing burnout. What surprised me wasn’t the percentage of technology workers who said they were getting burned out -- but how many came forward.
IT is a 24/7 discipline If a project deadline must be met, or if something goes wrong in production, staff members work 80-hour weeks. This “iron person” mentality is deeply rooted in the IT profession and is a source of professional pride -- but it exacts a toll in the form of employee absenteeism and health issues when the stress piles on, and it contributes to temper flares and staff morale issues.
CIOs and IT project managers should spend more time “managing by walking around.” Observe team and employee behaviors, look for excessive absenteeism or tip-offs like when a star employee starts missing key deadlines or loses motivation. Then, sit down with the employee. If he or she needs some time off, arrange for it. If counseling is needed, arrange for that, too. Be supportive of the employee, and supportive of his or her work group, which may also have been impacted by the employee’s burnout behavior.
5. Interruptions and resource bottlenecks
Every IT organization has a handful of employees who do the heavy lifting when it comes to setting up systems and networks, designing and maintaining databases, writing complicated applications, etc.
Your staff members know who these people are, so when they need help or support with their work, they go to these people. Unfortunately, every individual only has a certain amount of bandwidth in which he or she can address problems and issues. If more demands come in than they can handle, they become resource bottlenecks that can impact project work. Also, when these key resource people get overloaded with continuous interruptions, it takes them away from their critical work.
Look for opportunities to automate some of the staff support processes. One opportunity is to automate the deployment of test regions for applications, as there are still many IT organizations that procedurally require application developers to sit with the DBA or a system programmer when an app needs a test area. An alternative is to use software tools that can auto-deploy these test region systems with the input of a few key parameters that the developer is likely to know.
Second, develop some bench strength behind your staff experts. Initially, you could hire a consultant-expert to handle some of the support load, but over time you will want a more junior person to learn the skills and take over some of the daily staff support load.
Finally arrange some “alone time” for your key contributors and for your general staff. If there is a time (say two hours per day) where a person is guaranteed uninterrupted work time, he or she will be more productive.