February 29, 2024

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Productivity Without Strategy Is Bad for Business (And Engineers)

Imagine you made a to-do list every morning, and you attacked it throughout the day.  Completing one task after the next in a very efficient manner.  Every time you cross something off, you feel a little better about yourself and what you’ve accomplished.  Does this sound familiar?

It’s how a lot of people work, including myself, on most days.  It’s also how companies tend to operate.  They react to industry trends and often get away from their core services.

As a professional engineer who has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering, I have been trained to think very analytically.  I can see all of the components of what needs to be done to accomplish a task or a project, and I want to attack them, one by one, and complete the project.

However, if we take that approach, without an overall strategy in how we want to operate, we may be much less productive than we think we are.  I’ll give two examples here, one individual example, and one company example.

A Personal To-Do List With No Importance Scale

If you use a to-do list, how is it set up?  Do you have tasks grouped into projects?  Do you have them grouped at all?  Are you able to rank your tasks by importance or impact?

Most people that I know do not weigh their tasks by the level of importance.  There are some task management systems (like asana, which we use at EMI) that will allow you to assign a priority to a task, high, medium, or low, but this is NOT the same as impact.

For example, let’s say I have 5 tasks on my to-do list for the day:

  1. Finish and send out proposal to prospective client
  2. Write social media posts
  3. Record a podcast episode
  4. Clear out my email inbox
  5. Conduct staff meeting

Task 1 of sending out a proposal is likely a much higher impact task than writing some social media posts, however, if the latter takes 20 minutes, and writing the proposal takes 5 hours, I may jump onto the social media task, because I can quickly get it done, and cross it off my list.

However, if I am strategic in my approach to my day, and I recognize that Task #1 is far and away more impactful than any of the other tasks and I should do it before anything else, then I am being effective in my productivity efforts, and not just efficient.  In fact, if I only achieved task #1, and pushed everything else off until tomorrow, I would still have had a very impactful day.

An Engineering Firm Ignoring Team Dynamics

For another example, let’s look at a small engineering firm that has gone completely virtual.  The CEO glances down at his task list and sees the following items:

  1. Complete our projects on-time for our clients
  2. Create guidelines for productive virtual teams
  3. Hire more people

Of course, all three of these items are important and critical to the growth of the firm, however, from a strategic point of view, which makes sense to go first?

It’s unlikely you would tackle just one at a time, but the point of the example is that if Tasks 1 and 3 are prioritized over Task 2, they may not be successful.  If this company’s teams do not know how to communicate and manage projects virtually, they will likely perform below average on delivering their projects, and then, even worse, they will onboard employees into an atmosphere where communication and productivity is poor or limited.

Hopefully the CEO would recognize this and place a high importance on task #2 to establish some guidelines and training for how to communicate and interact virtually, especially when delivering complex engineering projects.

Be Strategic Not Just Productive

I hope this post makes you think about prioritizing your tasks and projects not just by urgency, but also impact.  I will leave you with a quote from the great management consultant Peter Drucker that drives this theory home.

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

To your success,

Anthony Fasano, P.E.

Engineering Management Institute | 800-920-4007 | www.EngineeringManagementInstitute.org

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