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Productivity – When is tech the answer?

There’s a lot of fuss about ‘tech’. These days it’s all about the app. A few years ago, when I was younger, it was all about the hardware.

No doubt in a few years time it will all be about something super-sexy such as wearable tech. Or embedded tech with in-eye HUD so you don’t even need to glance at your smart watch… it’ll be transmitted to your retina by nanites. Or pixies. Who cares which?

The point is, though, that the reliance on tech for productivity isn’t a simple one-way street. Essentially, there are only two times when tech is the answer to your productivity problem. Only two?  Well yes.  Obviously I’m simplifying for effect but in principle, yes.

The two times tech is the answer (as in, without doubt it’s the answer!) are:

  1. when you know exactly what it is you need to do; and
  2. when the tech does exactly what you need.

What if you don’t know exactly what you want to do?

As Alice (she of Wonderland and Looking Glass fame) never said but should have: if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. That’s rubbish of course. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you where the road goes.

Trusting to the tech to do stuff when you don’t know exactly what your priorities are is a bit like trusting your car’s SatNav to get you where you need to be when you’ve not given it a postcode. When it comes to driving your car you’re not that dumb, right?  So why is it that more and more of us are desperately thrashing around looking for a technical solution to a very human problem.

There’s no point in spending hours trying to decide between MeisterTask or Asana as task management systems when what you really need is a project management system. Basecamp is a great system – but only if you know what it is that you need happen and you have the mental where-with-all to set it up and use it!

CRMs don’t populate themselves. Trello won’t magically create it’s own task lists.

Let me give you a personal story by way of example. It’s about when I run confidence training courses. I usually start with an exercise to define exactly what confidence is to the participants. “If I waved a magic wand and you were confident tomorrow, exactly what differences in behaviour would I see?  How would I know the wand had worked?”  Inevitably I’m faced with a sea of responses like this one “I’d be more confident in how I understood the new regulations about X, Y or Z”.  That kind of answer bugs me quite a bit.

They didn’t need a confidence course as much as they needed to knuckle down and spend some time learning about the new regulations for X, Y and Z! Trying to use a confidence course as a short cut the hard work of learning the regulations is just lazy, unstructured thinking.

Similarly, trying to use find a piece of tech that does A, B and C for us instead of learning A, B and C in the first place isn’t exactly the best idea in the world, either!

Step one – figure out exactly what you need to get tech to do for you.

Step two – find the tech that does that.

What if the tech does something slightly different from what you want to do?

If the tech doesn’t do what you want, obviously it’s doing the wrong thing. By definition. So stop looking at it.

Ahem!  It’s not that simple, Simon. What if nothing does exactly what you want it to do? I’ve looked at pretty much every CRM on the planet and none of them do exactly what I want. (Well, none of the ones I’ve been able to afford at least – for all I know there are some out there that do, but I couldn’t afford them so they failed one of my criteria already! 😉 )

Compromises need to be made, because otherwise you’d end up with no tech and you’d have to do everything by hand. Frankly, that might be the right thing to do, sometimes, but no one in this day and age wants to admit that they’re using paper for fear of looking un-hip. (Did I really say un-hip?)

So how do you know if the tech does close enough to what you need it to do to be worth the compromise?  How far away from your ideal should you be prepared to go?

Well at risk of stating the bloody obvious, that depends on what it is you need to do and on the kind of person you are. There’s no definitive answer. Or even a good one. What there might be, however, is a good answer for the process you use to decide and it’s this.

Adopt the same mindset for taking on board a piece of tech (hardware, software, combination or whatever) as you would for taking on a new member of staff. You’d not just pick any old candidate off the street. No, you’d create a job specification first (see the first part of this now-over-long-article). Then you’d gather your candidates.

Now the fun begins.

Your job description should be split into a number of sections. Let’s call the first section “absolute bloody necessities” and the second “would be very nice to have”. The third might be called “I can get along without but sound cool” and the fourth one “shiny things I don’t need”. Pick better names for those sections, because having sensible sections names will make it easier for you to do the next stages.

Now give each section a score-range. Your first section should be scored as a zero/one but the others can be scored out of five, or whatever floats your boat.

At last… the fun bit – score each candidate bit of tech in each of the columns. I suggest you do it over a reasonable time period so you don’t get tired but it’s up to you.

Finally multiply your scores together (don’t add them). Multiplying will give you the same ranking as adding them, except that it will mean that anything with a zero in your first column doesn’t get any score at all. And nor should it – that section was the “absolute bloody necessity” section for a reason.

I guess you could add the other scores up and filter by the first section’s score if you wanted – the idea is the same.

The final stages

Look at your top three candidates only. Needing to look at more than that probably means your scoring criteria weren’t strict enough but use some common sense if your fourth candidate was only tiny bit behind your third, for example.

Now ask if any of them score highly enough to be worth your time, or are you better off doing it the old way?

Don’t be afraid to ditch them all if nothing scores highly enough.

Oh, and if absolutely nothing scores high at all, ask yourself if you’ve just found a market opportunity for a bit of tech!  It obviously doesn’t exist, and you might not be the only person who wants it…   😉

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