The Challenge with Tracking Productivity and Knowledge

When you have metrics, it is easy to consider the financial (revenue, sales, profit) and other traction related variables (user signups, retention rates, MAUs = Monthly Active Users, etc.), as they naturally form part of your success story.

It’s tempting, too, as they’re so obvious but often don’t give a clear picture about the long term sustainability and vision of your business or idea. In short, metrics are a tricky beast to conquer:

  • Which ones are truly useful?
  • Which ones are actually meaningful?
  • Which ones are sustainable and (if possible) what are those that have validity across different ventures?

Metrics are hard. I’m with Ev Williams in his recent post on Medium where he writes:

Numbers are important. Number of users is important. So are lots of other things. Different services create value in different ways. Trust your gut as much (or more) than the numbers. Figure out what matters and build something good.

Then what about tracking more subtle factors (but longer term very important ones), such as team productivity and thought leadership (subject matter knowledge) across an entire organization?

With the number of tools that are available at our disposal today, it is very likely that knowledge is spread in different places, so are tasks and communication and it becomes nearly impossible to track the overall progress of all that.

We’ve had a really hard time figuring (and fighting) this out at Unified Inbox. Many times we were discussing the pro’s and con’s of this and that app or service – and that having one system would be better than many – but then this specific feature was needed for that particular workflow and so on. Solutions without end, but no end to the problem in sight.

I’ve met many fellow founders who’re dealing with the same challenges in their companies. So to improve on our own findings and get more feedback, we established a “navigational chart” which tries to illustrate what seems to work pretty well for us now:

Progress Tracking

Life is a journey. What paths you take privately, whether its through the wild bush or in civilisation, by foot, private or public transport, fast or slow – it’s your call and your life.

But, at work ideally you’ve got at least a road in place that you can already walk on. In established companies (with often detailed processes that have accumulated over the years), that road is mostly well paved. Sometimes a bit too well while still slowing you down and with big walls on the left and right.

Not so for startups. So we made or own virtual road (see above):

  • usually there is traffic in both ways so our road has two sides
  • people cross roads the way they want, in our road, the path taken is dotted by various tools one of our team members is using specifically to accomplish the responsibilities the job comes with
  • in our version we also have a wall on either side, that every team member (no matter what is the nature of their work) keenly observes. One is for “tracking the progress on tasks & productivity”, and the other wall for “recording the progress of knowledge gained” during the process.

Why did we consider tasks and knowledge as “metrics” for us and as being the most important ones from a productivity performance perspective?

One reason is that they are fundamentally opposite (and just like a two way road go in opposite directions). The psychology of tasks is that you want to get them done and out of your way. But knowledge is something that you want to acquire, store for safekeeping and make it easily available for new members joining your tribe.

Whilst there can be innumerous tools helpful to accomplish the work of a designer for instance (Invision being such an example), not the entire company and not even the entire department would need to be provided with access and training for that tool. But with Tasks and Knowledge it’s different. Better the whole team is on the same page there.

In our case we use Asana for daily task management and project planning and Confluence as a wiki for our longer-term knowledge base. So far this seems to work pretty well and with Unified Inbox as the communication based tool which integrates and links it all plus the individual apps & services which our team members can freely choose themselves to get stuff done, we’re quite happy thus far on our road.

What are your experiences, which tools are you using and how do you track your productivity and knowledge progress? Which metrics do you use and what hasn’t work so well also?

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