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Efficient unproductivity

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I’m living a semi-corporate life at the moment, with a longer term piece of contract work with a large client. Having spent the past 12 months pivoting on a sixpence, I’m now experiencing some of the things I’d vaguely forgotten – and top of the list is that broker of inefficient productivity, the networked diary.

Let me explain. I imagine a mythical era past, probably up until the first few years of my career in the 1990s. In those days, diaries were a personal tool. You could manage your time, because nobody else could without significant effort. To call a group of people together into a meeting took significant effort. I imagine a world of fewer meetings, and fewer cancellations; a world where people understood the value of bringing people together because of the cost of organising it in the first place.

Then Schedule+, Outlook, Lotus Notes and other networked calendar services started to appear within corporate networks. Now you could see other’s diaries. You could organise meetings a the click of a mouse. As the cost of organising went down, the perception of value tanked too. In the years since WiFi and easily consumed digital conferencing services it has become even more challenging – we are no longer confined by the limits of geography, and so meetings can be organised even more fluidly, and with laptops out participants don’t even need to really concentrate on the matters as hand as they can use these increasingly low-value, low-cost together times to do more important things like answering meeting requests.

Technology has enabled us to become incredibly efficient in being hugely unproductive.

There are a couple of things here: first of all the mantra of how software should make things easier. That’s not always a good idea – making things easier can make them stupider.

Secondly, the recurring theme I’m picking up at the moment – that software development is focused on the individual, but collaboration is a team sport. If you design collaborative services around the individual you get Outlook. Outlook is great at being efficient in dealing with a bunch of unproductive tasks, but does it really make people more collaborative? I for one am not convinced.

It’s making me start to wonder if there needs to be a new manifesto: a Agility for Teams manifesto that looks at how to approach the delivery of software that is based around the needs of a group of people, not individual users and customers.

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