Monday, 31 December 2007

Last Reflection of 2007

The New Year is almost here. Will it bring new technologies? Certainly. Will it bring new thinking? Possibly. We are all constrained by our past, by our core values, by our preferred forms of action and thought, by our culture, by .....

Occasionally we can defeat all these and come up with an original idea.

Then, we start to get older - and more set in our ways, more subject to the constraints and barriers above.

If we have a New Year's resolution, it should be to keep young, keep flexible, keep alert in our thinking. Check your daily and weekly routines and think about how much of what you do is from force of habit .... "On Tuesday evenings, we always..." Change some of these habits and you might jolt your brain back into gear!

Monday, 24 December 2007

The Productivity Miracle

Well, tonight is the night! The most amazing logistics productivity miracle when Santa and his team of reindeer deliver presents to millions of boys and girls (or at least those who have been good).

How does he do it? Well, taking a a look at his corpulent frame, he doesn't seem to be a follow of 'lean thinking'.

Clearly there is some advanced science involved ... teleportation, uncertainty principles and so on. In fact the list of scientific innovations is so long I prefer to give it its collective term of ... magic.

Happy Christmas.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Productive Greetings

Well, for those of us who celebrate it, Christmas is almost here. I finish work today - which means that I pack lots of things I haven't been able to get around to into a bag and pretend I'm going to tackle them over the Christmas break.

On past experience, I might get around to some of them. Its not that I'm averse to working in the holiday; just that I prefer to do things I want to do rather than things I should do.

This year this is compounded by the fact that I know my wife has had words with Santa and he should be bringing me an audio interface and supporting software so that I can record, edit and mix music on my PC. There will be a (pleasurable) learning curve which might take my attention away from work.

I hope the rest of you work out your own appropriate work-play-rest balance and I wish you well for the holiday and for 2008.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

We never intended that...

A recent report from a committee of UK Members of Parliament suggests that recently revised NHS contracts which boosted hospital consultants' pay by more than a quarter have led to decreased productivity and a reduction in the number of hours worked.

Those of us in the performance measurement field will not be surprised at this. We know that it is absolutely crucial to know what you are measuring and why you are measuring it; and then to understand both the intended and possible unintended consequences of measuring it. You get what you measure and you get what you pay for! Therefore make absolutely sure that you are measuring and rewarding the right things.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Greener buildings

Builders in California are going back to school to learn how to cope with a new regulation which says that all new homes completed after 2020 must produce as much energy as they consume. The same regulation applies to all commercial buildings completed after 2030.

Of course the assumption is that buildings will consume very little and therefore need to produce very little ... but I haven't seen the detail and how carefully worded it is. A building that used lots of energy but produced lots of energy might meet the 'letter of the law' but would certainly not meet the 'spirit of the law' and could have a large carbon footprint. Let's assume they've got it right and rejoice.

(Quick law is often bad law!)

Friday, 30 November 2007

A paper exercise

A recent survey from Fujitsu/Siemens suggests that about half the printing that takes place in UK offices goes unread. Half! Where are the lean practises being applied to these offices? What about the Seven Wastes? In an era of service economies, office work is the dominant form of work, yet we seem to let it find its own levels of (in)efficiency.

For once, let's do what we've been saying we've been going to do for the last 10 years ... and reduce the paper mountain - its good for the economy, and its certainly good for business. I'm not suggesting (yet) the mythical paperless office ... but we could make a start and move from our peak back down to base camp.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Further sickbed reflections

Well, the saga continues with hopsitalisation. Nothing too serious but it did give me a chance to see the internal workings of a hospital ward for the first time in a long time. Lots of people working hard - but often to little effect it seemed to me. Little flow. Lots of ad hoc activity. Lots of form filling, little time for 'care'. The staff seemed as frustrated by it all as I was. They look in desperate need of liberating and empowering. The new all-graduate nursing profession has not found its new role - often sometimes acting as 'technicians' rather than 'care workers'.

What is the value of much of the work carried out? How does it help patients? Patients get their treatment - but as a series of scheduled interventions and procedures rather than as an integrated whole.

I would love to be let loose on parts of the health service with a set of simple productivity tools!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Mind the relapse

So. as I climb out of my sick bed (much better, thanks for asking), I remind you that the UK has had its wettest summer for some time and even the late sunshine will not stop many suffering from the 'winter blues'. What can a company do about it ... to ensure no drop in productivity. Well, perhaps as winter starts we need a few 'spirit-uplifting' events or celebrations ... even challenges. Let people know they are important ... not as 'human resources ... but as sentient, feeling, talented, creative human beings. In fact, perhaps we should build a movement to close down HR departments and replace them with 'talent banks'. This is not a 're-branding' exercise but a re-thinking exercise .... give the job to someone with no experience of HR but a passion for people.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Productive doing nothing?

I have been ill now for longer than usual, and certainly longer than I would like ... nothing too serious but debilitating. Consequently, I can manage a few emails, the occasional blog post and perhaps a few other bits and pieces. I am currently therefore rather unproductive.

However, I have had time to think and so some of my longer-term plans will change as a result of reflection and thought. Perhaps if I (and you) did that more often, we might save some of the energy we expend in ad hoc, unplanned actions and move more carefully towards well-planned goals.

Never get activity mixed up with productivity!

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Is globalisation good for you?

Well, I suppose it depends on who you are ... but generally the answer is yes. Since economic globalization started in the 1980s, resources have shifted to sectors with competitive advantages; productivity has reached new heights, and innovation has flourished.

In the US, trade now supports nearly one in every five jobs and ....
workers in globally engaged companies earn more than the average;
globalisation has generated an increase in annual income of approximately $10,000 for each American household.

American workers are generally higher-skilled then they were; they achieve greater levels of specialization; and they have become more competitive.

The US seems to have benefited .... anyone want to note any nations that are 'in the red'?

Thursday, 25 October 2007

The Long Haul

I am writing this entry from the European Productivity Conference 2007 in Zilina, Slovakia. Last night the Ministry for the Economy awarded productivity prizes to individuals and companies that have made the most impact on Slovak productivity over the last 10 years. Volkswagen Slovakia won the company award for its long-term commitment to making its production facility in Slovakia one of the highest quality and most productive facilities throughout Europe. This nicely shows that productivity development is not about quick wins and instant success – sustainable productivity development requires constant, incremental improvement and long-term commitment

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Bigger bubble

In the last two years, India's GDP has grown by over 9% per annum. Is this sustainable or is the economy overheating?

Well, it seems as though recently there has been a shift to investment-intensive growth alongside continuing growth in productivity. This all augers well for the future and continuing growth seems assured - at least in the medium term.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Free trade boosts productivity

Most of us realise that the macro-economic climate has a big effect on productivity at the national level ... but, of course, this is only because it has its effects at company level. To confirm this, a recent study on Canada's free trade experience suggests that eliminating more trade barriers inside and outside Canada could lead to big leaps in Canadian productivity, which in turn would allow Canada to better fund its social programs.

The study by economics researchers Daniel Trefler and Alla Lileeva, shows that Canadian companies that had low productivity levels before the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was signed increased their productivity significantly after the Agreement came into effect in 1989.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Don't stretch the numbers too far

Somtimes official figures are used for purposes for which they were not intended ... and somtimes they are stretched a bit thinly. Consider the following statement taken from a press release from a Business Park in Edinburgh ...

"We know that the value added by recycling in Yorkshire and Humberside [£76m GVA basic prices] is similar to the value added by fish farming in Scotland [£70m GVA basic prices]."


And then they go on to show that the productivity of workers in their Business Park (as measured by GVA/employee) is higher than China's.

Figures OK ... Conclusion spurious!

(Note: GVA = Gross Value Added)

Friday, 5 October 2007

The Phillipines needs a boost!

The Philippines is lagging behind other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in terms of productivity (GDP / employee) ... but worse, the Asean itself is way behind the rest of Asia and the developed world in productivity.

Labour productivity in Southeast Asia has become stagnant compared to the rest of Asia according to a recent report from the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The report measured output per employed person in Southeast Asia at an average annual increase of 1.6 percent only between 1996 and 2006. It showed that Singapore is the most productive country in the Asean with its US$47,975 of value added by each person employed followed by Malaysia's US$22,112, Thailand's US$13,915, Indonesia's US$9,022 and the Philippines' US$7,271.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Necessity (and poverty) breed invention

Across Africa, the practice of 'beeping' is spreading fast. This involves calling a friend or contact on his/her mobile phone but hanging up immediately. The friend gets a missed call and returns it - and he/she incurs the call cost and not you!

The phone companies are working out ways in which they can get (small amounts of) revenue from these 'missed calls' and are introducing new 'call me back' services.

So both parties are trying to maximise their value and minimise their costs .... quite productive, really.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

USA should become a high-skilled economy

Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Dennis Lockhart said recently that higher productivity is needed to help retain high-end manufacturing jobs in the United States and even reverse some of the forces of outsourcing.

In a panel discussion on the regional economy at the Southern Governors' Association annual meeting, Lockhart said some companies had found that producing quality goods was not always compatible with seeking out the lowest cost of labor.

St. Louis Fed President William Poole went further and said that governments and businesses needed to help with a transition that shifts Americans to higher-skilled jobs.

... and you thought the USA was a high-skill economy!

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Canada fails to capitalise

Though Canadian companies have been investing in new machinery and equipment, they have failed to realise all the productivity benefits, a new study from Statistics Canada suggests.

The gap in labour productivity -- or real gross domestic product per hour worked -- between the United States and Canada has been steadily widening since the 1960s, and grown significantly since 1980, said the agency's report on long-term productivity growth in the two countries.

From 1961 to 2006, labour productivity in Canada and the U.S. increased at virtually the same annual average rate -- 2.1% in Canada and 2.3% in the U.S. -- over the 45-year period.

However, significant differences appear when the data is broken down into shorter time periods, and when the factors behind the improvements in productivity are examined.

"The drop off after 1980 is very striking," said Glen Hodgson, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada.

Between 1961 and 1980, labour productivity in Canada improved 2.9%, while in the U.S. it grew 2.5%. But from 1980 to 2006, Canada improved 1.5%, while the U.S. grew 2.2%, the Statistics Canada data showed.

The reasons behind the growth rates were also different, the agency noted.

"In Canada, investment in capital was the most important factor in the growth of labour productivity," the report said. "In the United States, however, the main factor was improvement in production efficiency."

By contrast, in the U.S., the improvements in productivity are largely due to "multifactor productivity (MFP)," generally associated with technological or organizational change or economies of scale.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Effectiveness changes

Most people with PVRs (personal video recorders such as Tivo in the US and Sky+ in the UK) use them to fast forward through adverts between programmes. This clearly bothers advertisers and agencies. Now a survey has shown that the adverts least likely to be bypassed are (not surprisingly) short, direct ones - not 'lifestyle' adverts where it takes 2 minutes to work out what is being advertised.

It reminds me of a 'restaurant' I was passing on my first ever visit to New York. It was called "Eat Here Now!". I did. Sometimes short and sweet is very effective.

Monday, 10 September 2007

The Race is On

In perhaps the boldest environmental move by any nation, President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica has announced that Costa Rica will be carbon neutral by 2021 - probably the first in the world to be so.

Hydrocarbons - including gasoline and diesel - already bear a heavy tax burden, making fuel there more expensive than in any other country in Central America. Three percent of these taxes fund Costa Rica's cutting-edge program of payment for environmental services, called the National Forest Financing Fund (FONAFIFO), which compensates landowners for growing trees.... the program doles out almost $15 million a year to more than 8,000 property owners.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Productivity to Turkey's Rescue?

The Turkish economy has a typical development dilemma – which can only be resolved by productivity growth. Currently unemployment is at 9.8 per cent and needs to be down below 6 per cent for a socially sustainable growth path for future years. On the other hand, the added value per product must rise to enable Turkey to be more competitive.

This requires Turkey to focus on high-productivity sectors (currently the automobile industry shows good productivity) rather than low-productivity ones (such as textiles).

In fact it is unlikely that Turkey could survive in many of the low-productivity and labour-intensive sectors in the longer term - Turkey’s recent development has made life expensive and the cost of labour significantly exceeds that of China, India and so forth.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Too old - and not enough

Like much of the developed world, Japan is facing a demographic downturn - with a falling population, due to a falling birthrate, and an ageing population. The answer - says the Japanese government in its annual economic report - has to be higher labour productivity.

Simple solution - difficult implementation!

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Who gets the good jobs?

In Canada, a multi-disciplinary project (a collaborative effort involving university researchers, industry and the federal and provincial governments) is exploring best management strategies to improve the productivity and environmental sustainability of grassland pasture systems.

The work is being coordinated by the University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Livestock and the Environment on a section of land located just southeast of La Broquerie, Manitoba. The researchers are evaluating the effect of swine manure fertilizer on hay and pasture yields and quality, the impact on the productivity of the cattle that consume the forage, and several environmental sustainability considerations including nutrient loading and movement, pathogen movement and greenhouse gases.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Protect Me!

French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently uttered a surprising statement …. “The word 'protection' is no longer taboo." For the last 50 years the West has signed up to the concept of free trade – and the efficiency and productivity that comes with it. This is what has fuelled Western economies and well-being. Ironically as the West gets more cautious and more protectionist, the East is gaining free trade momentum.

Is the attitude of Western politicians a response to a wider range of aspirations amongst the public ... or is the West is just getting frightened of the competition to come.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Innovation - and Productivity

The European Patent Office (EPO), the German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) and the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK-IPO) have published an independent study which benchmarks productivity in the patent grant procedure at the three offices. The purpose is to identify best practice in the patent search and examination procedures with a view to enabling each office to adapt its own practice in the interests of streamlining and efficiency. The study clearly identifies disparities in productivity between the EPO and the two national offices, although some of the differences are largely due to varying procedures. The report is available here...

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Canada needs productive travel

Commuters could help reduce Canada's productivity gap with the United States by spending some of their daily commuting time on productive work, according to a survey by Intel Canada. The average American works 164 more hours per year than the average Canadian worker, yet still manages to work less than the average 40 hours per week, the survey found. Not surprisingly (for a company that power many of the world's laptops), Intel's report suggests that Canadian workers could narrow that productivity gap by using a laptop while in transit or by using an alternative to commuting. 12% of Canadian workers use public transportation for work, the survey said, and about half of mass transit users spend about 240 hours per year travelling to and from the workplace. However, only 11% of organizations help workers maximize their commuting time by providing them with access to a laptop or enabling commuting alternatives.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Big Boys Play Tough

The Korean Automobile Industry has developed tremendously over the last 10 years and is now globally competitive . BUT from recent reports ... it appears to be losing its competitive edge ... and this is how it made its mark and its progress. Wages are rising but productivity is falling ... and quality is not yet at the levels of Japanese - and even the better European - production.

Customers will accept (slightly) inferior quality for a lower price ... but if you can't compete on price, you have to compete on quality ... and on other issues such as design, reliability, etc.

So to the Korean Automotive Industry we say ... "Welcome to the real world. As one of the big boys you now have to grow up and sustain your competitiveness through improved productivity AND quality".

Monday, 30 July 2007

She is productive

In Pakistan, of those aged 10 years & above, 50.9% are males and 49.1% are females. Yet, out of the total civilian labour force, 79.9% are males and only 20.1% are females. Out of the total number of employed persons, 80.5% are males and 19.5% are females.

Do you think the Pakistan government, and Pakistani society more widely, realises the productivity handicap they are carrying by failing to realise the contribution of about a quarter of their population?

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Innovation works

The role of innovation - in both product and process - is clear in improving productivity. Take the automobile industry. The number of cars per hour produced in most plants is dramatically higher than, say, 15 years ago - the result of investment in new technologies. Now, models are designed for high productivity manufacture.

Volkswagen recently suggested that the next generation models for its Polish plant would create a productivity gain of somewhere reaching 50% - the result of fundamental design changes for the cars themselves ... designed to be attractive to customers, of course .... designed for safety of course ... but also designed to be manufactured quickly and efficiently.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Big Problems, Big Targets

The Japanese government is aiming to raise the nation's productivity by 50 percent in five years using technology and deregulation according to a new policy statement released this` week.

There is an imperative for Japan to do this: Japan is the world's most rapidly aging society and must raise productivity to maintain living standards as workers retire and aren't replaced.

The document calls for more economic cooperation with Asia, liberalisation of the aviation industry and greater competitiveness in financial and capital markets.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

We need government to play its part

Organizational productivity often depends on government creating a potential for high productivity by building the appropriate underpinning infrastructure. In Pakistan, this has been shown recently with claims from the government (articulated by the Prime minister Shaukat Aziz) that the productivity and competitiveness of products from Pakistan has been improved at the domestic and international level as a result of improvements to the transport/supply chain infrastructure.

The Prime Minister suggested that, under the National Trade Corridor (NTC) plan, steps have been taken to improve all aspects of the logistics chain. Railways are being modernized and highways and roads are under construction. This has been supported with simplification of the customs’ procedures and processes at ports, airports and borders to significantly reduce clearance times.

Now, of course, having built the infrastructure the government needs to 'back away' and let industry and commerce play their part. This is a tricky balancing act for many government - facilitating but not controlling.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

What works?

At a recent seminar, Dr. Guy Blaise Nkamleu, IITA Yam Economist, suggested that the single most important factor creating economic growth in the agricultural sector in Africa was the use of improved fertilisers.

There is a certain irony as this happens at a time when the developed world is moving to 'organic' crops - created without fertilisers - and commanding a premium price.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Migrant success

This morning, the UK newspapers report that a study has shown that migrant workers (and there are evidently about 1.5 million of them - mainly from Eastern Europe) have a very significant and very positive impact on the UK economy.

They do not seem to have unduly affected employment levels of UK citizens, largely filling new, part-time, seasonal and 'dirty' jobs.

Of course there are fears that some of them are exploited, even being paid less than the statutory minimum wage.

I don't know that their productivity levels are, or those of the industries using them but its good to have a positive message about what has been a feared class of the UK population. Only time will tell if their presence is beneficial in the longer-term but for now let's welcome the impetus they have given to economic growth.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Innovation Moos

Technology continues to surprise – not such the technology itself, but the ways in which innovative and enterprising humans discover new ways to use it. Someone in Australia (I think) has developed a prototype of a ‘virtual field’. Cattle are not fenced in (fencing is expensive to set up – and maintain). Each wears a GPS receiver. The farmer sets the co-ordinates for ‘the field’ (the area in which the cattle are allowed to wander) and when a cow gets within 5 meters of the invisible boundary, the device emits a hum which warns the cow. If the cow strays the 5 meters further they get a mild shock (as they would from a conventional electric fence). Research shows that within a few days – and presumably a few shocks – the cows learn to ‘back off’ when they hear the hum. Now, that’s innovation – the technology has been around for a while but someone has exploited it in a novel way!

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Tools, Techniques ... and tosh

I see lots of claims made for productivity tools. Sometimes I take these at face value. ..... especially where the problem/area is bounded and small. Obviously, a scripting tool makes it easier to write computer code. However when it comes to BIG tools that promise to transform an organisation's productivity, I get wary. Changing organisational productivity is usually a 'system issue', not a technical issue. It requires diagnosis, understanding and change management.

This is not to say that tools are not useful .. they can be very useful - for parts of the overall process. There is, sadly, no magic, silver, productivity bullet.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Who's sharing with who?

You will see from my profile that I am President of the World Confederation of Productivity Science. We have a very 'grand' but very important mission of bringing about "peace & prosperity through productivity". We firmly believe that the benefits of increased productivity have to be shared equitably.

However, something is going wrong. In the USA:

between 1947 and 1974 productivity doubled and so did median family incomes
between 1974 and 2000 productivity rose 56% while median incomes rose 29%
between 2000 and 2005 productivity rose 16% while median incomes fell 2%
(Source: Economic Mobility Project)

so, who's realising all the benefits?

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Win-win-win ... it can be done!

The wage bill in India in private sector, commercial companies has been rising fast - by about 35% in 2006-07 compared to about 3.5% for the public sector. What about productivity? Can these wages be paid for?

Well, firstly, much of the wage rise is due to increased numbers in work (especially in the software industry); some due to higher wages.... but again this is due to a general upskilling of the workforce ... and higher level skills command higher wages.

When one compares output levels to these wage levels, there is good news. To produce one rupee worth of output, the average firm in India now spends eight paise on wages against 12 paise in 2005-06.

Higher labour productivity has provided a win-win-win situation.... more output for companies, higher wages for the workforce, more jobs for the population.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

I was strong, but now ....

The current position of the dollar in relation to the Euro seems to be as a result of a lack of growth in US productivity. As a result the US government is having difficulties financing its trade gap.

The dollar has continued to fall and is now at a record low against the euro, and has also weakened against many other currencies. As the U.S. economic slows, those in Asia and Europe continue to race ahead.

This is underpinned by a slowing of U.S. productivity growth for three years straight' this may even signal a permanent downshift.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Not just plain old vanilla productivity

As these posts progress, hopefully you will notice that I have a particular 'take' on productivity - largely arising out of my work with the World Confederation of Productivity Science. (

I firmly believe that all situations where productivity improvement is being addresses should be viewed through the separate - but interlinked - 'lenses' of economic productivity, social productivity and environmental productivity. This helps give a fuller and richer picture. In some cases, one of these lenses might be the most important - but there are few situations that do not benefit from using all three.

Further posts will develop this theme!

Sunday, 27 May 2007

New blog on the block

Productivity is a big issue - for individuals, organisations, nations! This blog is an attempt (albeit a humble one) to add to the sum of knowledge and comment on productivity issues.

I don't promise to post every day - or even every week. (Better to speak when you've something to say). I do, however, promise to try to keep it both interesting and entertaining.

No doubt, sometime in the future, you - the readers - will tell me how successful I've been.