What can businesses do to bridge a puzzling productivity gap?

The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released figures that show that UK productivity lagged behind every G7 advanced economy bar one last year.

It estimates that output per hour and output per worker were 20 per cent lower than the average achieved by the US, Germany France, Italy, Japan and Canada. The ONS goes on to say that this marks the widest productivity gap since figures began in 1991. So what’s the missing link?

Effective management of projects and resources is key. As traditional project portfolio management (PPM) continues to evolve, capturing and reporting on projects and ongoing work processes is critical. The day-to-day work that employees contribute is the energy on which businesses across the globe run. It consists of everything from tasks to meetings and other daily communications. However, the largest portion of this daily work is not currently being addressed.

Businesses are increasingly sharing resources and collaborating across projects, teams, departments, and geographies, and it is important to understand how this work impacts the organisation outside of traditional projects. No matter how they work, companies must adapt and evolve to in order to move their businesses forward given the realities of limited resources.

To be able to manage their workloads effectively, a productive business needs to achieve a motivated team, easy collaboration, smooth communication, and get things done on time and within budget. When balance is achieved, productivity increases. But, if just one of those elements slips, the balance is disrupted and chaos follows. In another recent report on Britain’s Productivity, workers in the UK are 30 per cent less productive than in other countries including Germany, France and the U.S., due to insufficient investments in technology and poor management. That’s a pretty significant gap and, whilst it obviously will be of concern to UK business, is also an opportunity to change for the better.

Technology has evolved the way we work. True mobility and flexible working practices are making true mobility and on-demand intelligence a reality. It is commonplace for a business to have a mobile or even a virtual workforce made up of contractors. In recent years the UK Government has introduced legislation that also allows parents of young children to request flexible work hours and arrangements. Whilst these teams of workers don’t look or operate in the same way as a traditional resource, they’re enabling leaner, more productive workspaces. However, many organisations are still struggling to adapt.

Organisations need to enable teams to communicate and collaborate on projects without boundaries and use tools which will allow them to access data and do their jobs from any type of device, whenever and wherever. Product launches are a perfect example of the type of collaboration that is currently suffering from this disconnect. These typically are centered in marketing, but require company-wide, collaborative, global teams. People are not in the same room, but they need to assign tasks, work with external partners, coordinate with external PR firms, and more.

Traditional project management methods and tools alone are not empowering the project manager and allowing businesses to maximise their productivity. So much daily, unstructured, collaborative work is generally not captured or reported by traditional project portfolio management tools, let alone understood.

Structuring the Unstructured

So, whilst the nation faces a productivity gap on a much larger scale, UK businesses are facing their own ‘gap’, which is contributing to the problem. Those responsible for managing projects are struggling to handle the different ways people are getting work done and, at the same time, there’s an increasing appetite at the top of an organisation for numbers and data in relation to productivity.

Where traditional methods are failing is that they struggle to structure the unstructured. As such, companies are eager to find new ways to support vital collaborative work and understand where both planned and unplanned working practices fit.

What’s needed is combined support within an organisation for all teams and workflows – no matter how they work.

Closing the Productivity Gap

By embracing integrated, easy-to-use systems that reduce organisational complexity, companies can get greater visibility and can enjoy the benefits of true mobility, boosting accessibility amongst teams, whilst still gaining the control they need to properly plan and manage work flows.

Today’s businesses need cloud-based tools to set up virtual project rooms, where they’re able to communicate and collaborate with their teams as effectively as if they were sitting across the table from each other.

They just need to remember these three simple principles for increasing productivity within the organisation:

  1. Collaboration will help reduce the productivity gap – empowering a team to collaborate will improve productivity and creativity. It will improve the flow of communication and eventually the progression of ideas and actions.
  2. Technology doesn’t manage resource, it’s simply an enabler – whilst often a cross on a chart, a resource is a person at the end of the day. If they are critical to a project’s success, you’ll need to remember the softer skills like communication to motivate them.
  3. Project management by numbers doesn’t work on it’s own – what makes a great project manager is the ability to take the numbers and combine that knowledge with what motivates them. Yes, a real-time PPM tool can provide unique insight and visibility, however, don’t get caught up in the numbers alone.

Overall, the onset of open and transparent communication will promote personal responsibility and a sense of teamwork, giving employees a sense of ownership and control that will boost their productivity.

While the rapid evolution of technology might sometimes catch organisations off-guard, the latest innovations are proving invaluable in empowering project managers to tackle chaotic, inefficient ways of working head-on.

By harnessing tools that facilitate new ways of working, British organisations are able to become more productive in today’s digital world.

Patrick Tickle, Chief Product Officer, Planview

Image source: Shutterstock/woaiss