May 11, 2018

Butt time productivity

I have used this term i call "Butt time productivity" as a way to model how some managers view productivity. This becomes really relevant in the software world, where the outcome is not dependent on time spent in front of computers and the best code is probably written when taking a walk or may be in the shower.

Consider two employees, I will call them H and S. H is the hard worker. He is in office at 8am and remains there till 7pm everyday of the week. He never takes vacations and is always available. He is good hearted and fun person to be around. He takes all meeting notes, always on time everywhere and does everything asked for. He will work late at nights and weekend all the time to resolve any issues. The only caveat, he is not the creative kind, yet.

Now consider person S. She is a smart worker. She comes in at 10am and leaves by 4pm. She is often on vacations and not reachable at times. She is whom we would call the good "lazy" engineer. But she is responsible. She can solve problems. She can take a 100 hour task and find a way to do it in 2 hours. She always has brilliant ideas that work and can solve the problem at hand. She solves problems before they become critical. She reduces the task and does it in a way that eliminates future issues.

Now step back a little and watch them both. Wear the hat of that manager. Keep in mind, that in software, the vertical problem sizes and effort are totally unrelated and let's assume you don't understand that. And with that context, you being that manager, who would you promote?

You might argue for S, but the reality is that it will always be H. And many of you might have seen it happen many many times in your careers.

What H excels at and what the organization (or the manager) does not understand, is what I call here as Butt Time Productivity. Think of it as the time ones butt warms the office chair :)

And I think if we are managing creatives and are in that field, we need to be careful about how we measure productivity of a person and how we value hard work. We need to be mindful about size of the problem and size of its effort without allowing criticality to distort that judgement.

That is one of the reason best managers are also leaders who have walked that path and can see beyond linear. They can see beyond the hard working H and the lazy S. They can also see through the skillful rhetoric and presentations on where the creativity sprouted from.

H is not a bad person and S is not super woman. When you consider the spectrum of experience, skills and talent, we all navigate between H and S. This is more about how we see and value productivity. It is also a caution, since H activities can be gamed resulting in crappy politics and BS'ing culture.

In the end, measuring individual productivity is hard. All organizations need both H and S. We need some of both H and S in everyone as well. A great creative organization is built when the relative values of H and S are understood by the leaders. What we value grows. And, what we don't dies. So please don't over value butt time productivity.