Software vendors, ourselves included, love to talk about productivity. On that note…
Productivity can be roughly defined as: Output per unit of input: a measure of efficiency.
Perhaps the only reason to buy any piece of business software is to increase this ratio. “You can do more with what you already have!”. “Think smarter, not harder!”. These are the silver bullets that enterprise software has been touting since its inception. But as the world shifts more and more towards knowledge-based work — work that often involves abstract concepts and ‘ideation’, how can we effectively measure it?
As Jon Husband pointed out on the FASTForward blog, productivity as we know it had its genesis with the Scientific Management of F.W. Taylor at the turn of the 20th century. Right at the heart of the industrial revolution, the ratio of inputs to outputs was a very measurable thing. An automobile factory had discrete, tangible output: a car. The number of cars produced per employee was a measure of the factory’s productivity.
Modern knowledge workers, on the other hand, don’t have such clear and measurable outputs. I was speaking to a friend who works for a consulting firm here in DC, and she was saying that her deliverables were status reports. Quarterly status reports, written by her, based on the services provided in the quarter. Now obviously, Paula isn’t more efficient if she produces twice as many status reports. The traditional manufacturing approach to management doesn’t work here.
Instead, Paula’s employer gauges her efficiency by evaluating the content of those status reports and by surveying her customers to find out how well she is doing. These measures are extremely subjective, and as a result are prone to errors, bias, or manipulation. (Not that any of these things actually happen, of course. We’re speaking hypothetically.)
Enterprise 2.0 claims to improve efficiency by increasing social productivity. The theory is that by making more information available to more people, and allowing them to connect with each other easily, we can collectively get more done. But does this claim hold true? I’m seeing more and more posts from good folks who can’t deal with the overload of this new social graph. The time spent keeping track of all the communications from all of your contacts might actually make you less productive.
There’s no doubt that a more aware and better connected knowledge worker has the potential to be a more productive one. But the social dimension is only one part of the Enterprise 2.0 equation. In a business context, making connections and managing relationships is a means, not an end.
This is the Big Difference between Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0. Enterprise 2.0 needs to deliver measurable value – not just get a bunch of people together to click on advertisements.