Motivating the knowledge worker

I was fortunate to have been recently invited to a talk by Bruce Daisley, Head of Twitter Europe, hosted by York University Alumni Association at Wayra, Telefónica’s incubator.

Culture, Technology and the Changing World of Work

Drawing from Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, Daisley explained an exercise conducted at MIT, where participants were paid for their performance in a series of physical and mental tasks. In the physical tasks, participants performed much better when motivated with money; however in the mental tasks, their performance was better when they weren’t being paid. The experiment was later repeated in India and the same results were observed.
This gives those of us charged with improving organisational productivity food for thought. If using compensation as a motivator doesn’t work for knowledge workers, can you increase output without increasing your staffing costs?
Pink suggests that the factors which motivate white-collar workers are threefold:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

The ability to choose the work (within a framework) with the greatest value for the enterprise, without having excessive hierarchy governing an individual’s decisions is conducive to increased productivity. The danger, of course, is that less desirable work is left to stagnate. This is why some level of governance is still required. In my experience regular planning and review meetings allow management to ensure that work is being completed and that less attractive tasks are being picked up.

Hack days were cited by Daisley as an example of a motivational tool which benefits both the enterprise and the individual. Choosing a theme which both challenges the employee and produces useful outputs for the enterprise is key, as is having a process which enables work that is taken into production to be supported.

Mastering a skill, tool or process is a personal reward for a knowledge worker, however it is important that employees are continually able to extend their skill sets and that those skills are valuable to the enterprise.

The importance of user experience in enterprise IT

Paul Boag recently asked are your internal systems damaging your business?
Having spent almost two years thinking about how we can help staff at work better, I’m pleased that our team’s core principles are reflected in the press.
The issue of shadow IT has been one which has only been growing in importance. It has taken a long time, however, to realise that these non-sanctioned tools are being used because the internal systems provided are either inadequate or no longer fit for purpose.

Modern IT provides an experience that millennials have come to expect – easy to use, available everywhere, responsive or mobile enabled and as good as or better than the software and apps they choose to use on their personal devices. For the IT department, these applications should offer SAML single sign-on for identity management across systems, an API for building integrations and providing contextually relevant data across applications and (we hope!) have the same amount of thought applied to their admin panel as the user front-end. Alas, this is not always the case.

Boag says “One size rarely fits all” and it is all too true that off the peg software is, like fast fashion, rarely the right fit for an organisation. Even some of the more configurable business applications just cannot be wrangled to fit a business’ workflow. Despite all protestations to the contrary, we know that teams are never as flexible about changing process to fit a system as they would like us to believe, especially when a new process is less efficient than before. It only gets worse when requirements are missed or change, as it is our job to ensure that requirements are reasonable and representative and to do that it is imperative that we understand a process from all angles.

In terms of understanding requirements, Boag hits the nail on the head. Having a list of desired features is only the start of understanding the requirements for a procurement. Each user has their own needs and motivation for accessing an internal system. Understanding that an expense approver requires certain information, which may be the same as or different to what an accounts payable clerk requires to perform their role in an expense claim scenario (for example) shouldn’t be a leap, but when evaluating software neither will necessarily look from the other’s perspective.

The initial implementation, though, of a piece of software or a process is only the start of the journey. Regular reviews are necessary to ensure that it is still fit for purpose, that employees aren’t sneaking in shadow IT and that the solution is still fit for purpose with performance where you would expect.

I must admit that I do not agree completely with the article. Working in a cloud-first environment, I would be wary about advocating building bespoke systems, when a lightweight integration, process mapping, process changes and/or training could deliver more, faster, with a smaller development outlay.

All in all, if your employees want to use the tools and systems available to them, because they work with them not against them, then the information stored will be more valuable (as it is rich and up-to-date), the employees will be more engaged and that simply translates to a better experience for customers.

Being Agile in Business Systems

I should probably start with some self-congratulation, given that I’m now a Certified Scrum Product Owner, having spent two days with the excellent Roman Pichler. I’m looking forward to seeing my name on the Scrum Alliance website!

Given that the product that I own is business systems, that my development resource is minimal and that is passionate about running as much of our business as possible on industry-leading SaaS services, it wouldn’t seem immediately obvious as to how a methodology for developing complex (software) products could be successfully applied in this arena. It would be shortsighted to believe that scrum didn’t have its uses in such an environment.

We’ve embraced our product backlog, which is growing ever larger. I see this as a success: we’re breaking down our epics and word is spreading about the efficiencies that have been delivered in the last year. The downside, of course, is that as the list gets longer, the percentage that’s achievable in a given timeframe starts to shrink. Time being a finite resource, being realistic about what can be achieved in a quarter will ensure that we don’t start to over-promise and under-deliver. The course didn’t cover, in any level of detail, using a product roadmap and this is something that I would like to start to articulate.

As for the items on the backlog, after a thoroughly entertaining exercise around personas and user stories, I would like to use user stories to articulate the work items that we want to achieve. Defining business value is always difficult, especially when everything is a priority to someone and user stories could be a good tool to allow us to assess the impact and importance of a proposed change.

I’m looking forward to articulating just where the good ship Business Systems is going.

Cinq jours pour m’installer

I arrived Monday lunchtime. Having met the famous Yvette, who is much more helpful in real life than via email (which Isabella – my voisine – believes is because they distrust it, it’s not the minitel you know), and been introduced to the sanitaryware in my bathroom, I was left to my own devices. Now ordinarily you potter about deciding where to put your collection of oddly-shaped cornflakes and sorting your books into height order, but I was in luck! Amy came and whisked me into Strasbourg with her mum and we had tarte flambée, which is creamy onion-y goodness and a diabolo (a concoction of lemonade and grenadine – délicieux).

The city itself is awe-striking, it’s so definitely French, but has a Germanic feeling and a friendliness you don’t always find in the French. That’s not to say everyone is the same. I have had some fairly poor service that in any job I’ve had would have lead to immediate dismissal. The woman in the post office shouted at me about her children (I wanted to know which counter to go to for La banque postale) and Didier at Crédit Mutuel told me that he was not interested in my custom because he wasn’t going to make any money out of me. I told him that I didn’t like French banks because free banking is the norm in England and I didn’t see why you had to pay for something so basic! Perhaps it gave him a Radio 4-esque thought for the day. It’s probably a good thing that I’m incapable of slagging people off in French.

The food is odd. I had pâtes alasciennes (Alsatian pasta) yesterday, which was a new experience, but not unpleasant. I have enjoyed everything I’ve eaten, but I don’t think it would be what I chose to eat myself necessarily.

I’ve been to IKEA more often than is needed this week, but I do have all the things I need, and it was all their basics – 0,50€ plates, mugs, glasses. I got a rug to brighten the place up, but everything seems to get quite dusty. Isabella has a vacuum on her end of the balcony, so I might ask her where that came from… I invested in a kettle, it’s very sad that Sainsbury’s basics don’t exist here, but I’m quite impressed by the one I have, it’s pretty quick to say it cost under 10€! Talking of electricals, I’m thinking about cheap inkjets. I might go find a Maison de Presse and pick up a PC mag of some description. I have nothing better to do en ce moment!

I think we’re planning a CAF party tomorrow and I’m providing brie and tomato sandwiches. We’re filling out our forms to get our tax back. I need to find out about registering with a doctor too… à plus!

En train (d’arriver)

So, this is France. Jack said, before I left, of France: “Nice country, shame about the people!” I’m not entirely certain that I agree with this sentiment, although since 4am this morning (thank you for the wake-up call maman) I have yet to have an actual conversation with anyone short of “I bought my ticket in the UK does it need the stamp from the yellow box?” and “A pain au chocolat and a large white coffee”. Incidentally, it would appear that a UK large has gone the way of an American large and is rather erm large, whereas France has not had the pleasure of caffeine addiction and still does things, as we say, by halves. Well, this is hardly the greatest problem. To experience that, you need a laptop and a power cable. Usually you would think: I have power, let’s rock; but (and this is a sizeable but) neither the Eurostar, or the considerably snazzier looking TGV has a socket into which you can plug your « prise » – quel horreur! So, praying that my battery will hold out (2h10, it currently reckons), I should have enough time to type a little and exercise my tetris fingers, or watch an episode of the West Wing. The choice!

So, my thoughts on the Eurostar. NXEC’s trains were nicer, but I was sat further from a toilet, so swings and roundabouts, I feel. The parisienne next to me slept throughout and snored daintily in a way so typically French. I snoozed and doubtless snored like a northern miner. Gorgeous. For future reference, if you are going on the métro, do think twice about how heavy your luggage is, because whatever they fought for in the revolution, it was certainly not lifts or escalators (c’est quoi, technologie americaine? – horreur!).

Conductors don’t want to see your ticket, they just bid you good day. See. I knew there was a good reason to be in France, although I do feel I’m missing out on fifty-something-year-olds on push scooters (intertextual reference FTW)…