Having been in the forefront of the computer revolution I have seen and experienced the benefits that computing provides. The computer, and office technology in general, has provided great productivity enhancements to chores that have been done in offices since the Summarians wrote on clay tables next to the Euphrates. However, I have also seen how management has worked just as hard to ensure no one in an office environment is more productive than a person 5, 000 years ago.
How can this be?
Everything has to start somewhere and in my theory it starts with Pen and Paper. I could start with clay tablets but that will just further prove my point so I won't.
Give someone a task that requires them to use a pen and paper to create it and you have the starting point. It does not matter how good that person is at doing that task. The Person's Ability (PA) defines the reference datum for them. Each person will have their own reference datum of ability. This theory works regardless of where the starting reference is at.
So we take the PA times the task given and get a result of WU. To put this into mathematical formula it looks like this:
WU= PA * TASK
PA and TASK has to have a starting value. Since each person's PA is their own unique ability of how well they accomplish a task it is assigned a value of 1. It is their basis of ability.
The TASK could be variable but if you gave two different people the same task to accomplish it is still the same task regardless of who you gave it to. Thus Person A's TASK = Person's B TASK. This is an identity. Mathematically 1=1. Thus you can assign TASK the value of 1.
For the basis of this theorem suppose you gave someone the task of writing a letter using Pen and Paper. The WU is already known to equal 1. WU is really a function of time. The time to accomplish this task is 1 WU.
This great technological invention of the late 1800's made people much more efficient. You can type much faster than you can write. But here again there are hidden items that are usually not taken into account. Writing longhand you compose slowly, have more time to think things out and thus make less mistakes. The typewriter allows you to type faster but then you have to allow for typing mistakes etc. Overall the typewriter is around 4 times more efficient than longhand due to mechanical and human errors that occur.
Take this to a business environment now.
You can now create a letter very fast. Four times faster than by hand.
You work hard and create a letter to send out and guess what? The boss says that he wants you to insert a paragraph in the middle. You retype the whole letter. He then states that he wants to send out 3 copies of it so they will know about it so you get to type it another 3 times! What happened?
WU = PA * TASK * TE * PN
Management just created a perceived need that the letter has to go to others. Now that you have the ability to easily reproduce and rewrite the letter YOU DO.
The PN value assigned is .25.
So well and good. This state of affairs goes on for around 60 years. Carbon paper has come into existence during this time. But now instead of just correcting one page and making 3 more you get to correct up to 3 more sheets after each typo with carbon paper. The advent of carbon paper now you can sent out at least 15 to 30 copies of a letter easily. Just retype one letter 7 times and you get 28 total copies. You are now again 4 times more efficient. Of course you also must ensure that the paper is lined up correctly, you type slower so that you can hit the keys harder so that all the pages are legible plus other items that are background processes that you have to do to enable you to accomplish this task.
WU = PA * TASK * TE * PN * TE * PN
WU = 1 * 1 * 4 * .25 * 4 * .25
WU = 1
This great invention of the early 1950's never caught on till the mid 1960's. What changed this? A marketing coup. Xerox got an exclusive contract to place their machines in the lobby of all Post Offices. People could then see how easy it was to create 10, 15, 30 copies at 5 cents each. You create one copy that is perfect and then reproduce the small amount you need fast. Printers would only reproduce items for 100 or more copies and most needs was for less than that.
Because it is so good at making copies it is around 8 times more efficient than using the methods discussed so far. Why not more? Read on.
Now in the business environment this made it easy for people to get copies - whether needed or not. Remember, since it is now very easy to create multiple copies even MORE people can have a copy and you are usually told to provide them! Which means that you have to prepare your output for the xerox machine to suit it in addition to the task. But wait! The xerox machine is NOT in your cube. It is too expensive to have one in each cube so you place it in a central place for everyone to use. This means that you gather everything up that you need, say three minutes, walk to the machine (having hallway meetings along the way), another three minutes, stand around the machine while you xerox the 8 to 20 copies that are now needed for another three minutes. (Should we count the paper jams, the out of paper messages and out of toner times that eat up between 5 and 15 minutes about every 20 trips to the machine?) Three to five minutes gathering everything back up and finally another three minutes back to your cube. The new machines have the ability to print on both sides, sort, staple the paper but still you have to do that also - - more so if you program the machine wrong. Now back at your cube you sort out everything for distribution to everyone. You just used up a lot of paper and will be sending it to someone who may or may not need or want what you just produced. Putting the resulting paper into routing slips or envelopes can add in another eight minutes or so. You have just used up around 25 minutes!
Now we know that it takes a few minutes to get back into the work mode after a break so we can add in another 5 minutes of time for that (I'll combine that with the prep time it took to gather everything up to leave the cube) and the total comes out to 30 minutes. Where did that 8x efficiency go?
WU = PA * TASK * TE * PN * TE * PN * TE * PN
WU = 1 * 1 * 4 * .25 * 4 * .25 * 8 * .25
WU = 2
By jove after 100 years we are now twice as efficient as the 1890s.
Wait wait, we forgot something. We just spent 25 minutes AWAY from our cube actually DOING something and not REPRODUCING something. We just had an "Out Of Cube" experience. These OOCs add up. OOC is a .5 factor. The more paperwork you have to do the more OOC experiences you have. Look around. You can see some people are OOC for half a day or more on a regular basis. These are the people pushing paper!
WU = PA * TASK * TE * PN * TE * PN * TE * PN * OOC
WU = 1 * 1 * 4 * .25 * 4 * .25 * 8 * .25 * . 5
WU = 1
Ah, much better!
This marvelous invention has been billed as the most office productivity enhancement since the xerox. Well, we've seen how much the xerox has helped.
Now the PC is a great tool. You can type something, make a mistake, back up, correct it and go on without every spending all that time messing with whiteout, carbon paper and the like. The computer is around four times as efficient as the typewriter.
Now the bosses know this too. Therefore, they know that it is SO easy to re-edit the document they always ASK you to! But wait! Aren't those figures in that typed table a bit difficult for management or other non-knowing people who are going to decide this task to understand in a table format? Maybe a graph and a embedded spreadsheet using different colors for each line for those who know how to read tables would present the facts better. You can see where this is going can't you. You now get to create a chart because the computer allows you to do it easily. But he didn't want a simple bar chart, but an exploded 3-D pie chart. Back again. We want others to review this before the meeting so send it out in e-mail and have them review it also. All this falls back under the PN of management.
Our formula now looks like this:
WU = PA * TASK * TE * PN * TE * PN * TE * PN * OOC * TE * PN
WU = 1 * 1 * 4 * .25 * 4 * .25 * 8 * .25 * . 5 * 4 * .25
WU = 1
After all this great technological progress of the past 100 years the task of writing a letter still takes the same amount of time as doing it by pen and paper due to the PN of management. They almost always ask for more than what is really needed to accomplish a task because they know you CAN do it using the technology we have.Return to Tom's Annoy list