Productivity Metrics: Looking at the details


October 1999

Productivity Metrics: Looking at the details

CIDMIconNewsletter JoAnn Hackos

In the last issue, I focused on measuring productivity by counting the number of documents produced, pages written, and projects completed. Now let’s turn our attention to the information-development process itself and find ways to measure productivity before we have documents to count.

You might recall that our friend Carl boasted of the number of pages his staff turned out in record time. He was down somewhere around one hour per page. But he achieved this remarkable productivity by cheating. He counted work that his documentation team didn’t do.

Carl would have been much better off trying to make his staff more productive as they produced their work rather than focusing only on the output. If he had, he might have found a number of potentially fatal flaws.

Carl’s staff members love to use their desktop publishing tools. They spend many hours creating more and more elaborate page layout schemes. They add cute graphics to spice up the look of the pages and individually craft each two-page spread. In fact, if Carl looked at their overall time expenditures, he would discover that nearly 40 percent of their total project time is consumed by desktop publishing tasks.

To begin, however, Carl needs to measure the total time it takes someone in his department to complete an information-development project. Once he knows more about the total time (taking into account information type, project complexity, total work volume with new and revised pages), he can begin to break total time down into its components.

Measuring time on task

We can obviously measure productivity by looking at the output of our work effort. We can also measure the efficiency with which we perform our tasks. If we can produce the same results with less effort or better results with the same effort, we have also increased our productivity.

Measurement Five-record the time it takes to develop a document or complete a project from the beginning to the end of the information-development life cycle. Total project time gives us a starting point for other measurements that help us improve the time we spend on individual tasks. We begin with total time, and then we break that time into milestones and individual tasks.

In Managing your Documentation Projects, I provide a recommendations for the percentage of total project time that goes into the phase milestones:

With these guidelines as a starting point, Carl and his team leaders begin looking closely at the time spent reaching each milestone. Right away they realize that the time spent on Phase 4 is much too high. Forty percent of total time for production tasks means that little time is left for information design, content development, and validation testing.

Measurement Six-the percentage of total project time spent on each milestone. You may want to measure the actual percentage of time spent on each milestone compared to this (or your own) model. We have found, for example, that projects in which the writers spent less than 20 percent of total time on detailed design had problems later. Because detailed design (Phase 2) is so important to ensure well planned, well designed information, cutting the percentages meant design problems during implementation and testing. The overall project was less successful.

Since 40 percent of total development time in Carl’s group is spent on Phase 4 tasks, his writers spend almost no time on planning. In fact, Helen is typical of the writers in the group. She claims that she has no time for planning. She just has to get started writing, even though her manager has asked her to turn in a content outline. But Helen feels that she can be more productive if she gets started. She’s been heard to argue that she can have the whole project done in the amount of time it would take her to create a plan.

Dan is perfectly willing to develop content plans; he just bases them entirely on the product specifications. He talks about getting out to user sites-the company even promotes doing so. He’s just too busy. He can take the programmer’s specs and whip out the documentation in record time. In fact, getting the content out of the way quickly means that he can spend more time with his real love-putting everything into a help system. He is an expert at playing with the help tools. He knows all about secondary windows, hypertext links, pop-ups, and so on. If anyone looked closely, they’d discover that Dan spend 25 percent of his time on content and 75 percent on converting the text into a help system.

Measurement Seven-the percentage of time spent on each key project task. You may also want to measure the percentage of time spent on key tasks. For example, if you have established a percentage for validation testing, you should ensure that this time is actually used for testing. If testing is cut, you are likely to have customer satisfaction problems later.

Reclaiming Writing Time

Cadence Design Systems instituted a practice in 1999 that they call “Reclaiming Writing Time.” They asked every team to evaluate how much time they spent on activities that did not add value for the customer. The focus of the evaluation was to increase the percentage of time spent on developing content that customers needed. At the same time, they had to decrease the time spent on other activities because the total project time could not change.

The project goal is to reduce the time spent on non-value added activities by 5 percent per quarter. Teams have decreased the amount of time spent attending meetings, asked for and received faster equipment, reduced production time, and so on. They have found ways to increase the percentage of their time producing value for the customer.

In another case, the information-development team has conducted an extensive study of its process in an effort to find ways to streamline it. They were able to reduce the total number of steps in the information-development process by eliminating redundant and unnecessarily time-consuming activities. CIDMIconNewsletter