What Happened to Smart Technology Choices?

Corporations making large-scale technology changes have learned over the years that it’s a big mistake to go out and buy the biggest, newest flashiest product available on the market without first doing a thorough study of the company’s needs.

In fact, there are procurement guidelines set up for precisely that purpose and best practices that govern the process so that all the right factors are appropriately weighed before a decision is made.  Some professionals make a career in this area, and have developed skills that are highly prized due to the critical nature of certain technology choices, and the high costs involved.

However, up until now, academics and corporate executives have focused on the purchase of single large, complex systems.  My research isn’t complete in this area, but I can’t find any critical thinking to help executives make another kind of technology decision that corporations make — the decision to equip their employees with individual, portable technologies like smartphones.

What are the differences between these kinds of decisions?

Purchasing a Single Large System
– the price per unit is high
– a failure is highly visible
– the processes and requirements are usually well defined before vendors are sought
– implementation, training and maintenance are seen as important elements of the process
– total-cost-of-ownership methods are used
– there is clear accountability for, and measurement of the business impact

Purchasing Smartphones
– the price per unit is low
– failures are almost invisible (such as a near-accident brought on by texting while driving)
– the processes that people use are not defined before vendors are sought
– no training is offered
– the cost of owning the gadget is seen as the price
– there is no-one accountable for the business impact, or any measurement

Here is an imagined “worst case process” that takes place when a company decides to make a smartphone purchase:

1.  The CEO or other executives fall in love with their new smartphones, as it enables them to communicate with each other outside hours, during vacations, weekends, sick days, holidays and from any point in the world
2.  They decide to make the units mandatory for all employees
3.  They offer no training, and no new company policies are crafted
4.  Anecdotal evidence floats up to the executive suite that the devices are being abused, and the CEO takes them seriously when he notices that his meetings at all levels are taking longer because at any moment, half the attendees are someplace in cyberspace via their smartphones.  Among his executives he seems unable to conduct a half hour conversation without someone stopping to answer a call, check email or send a text.  He learns that some companies are banning smartphones from meetings altogether, citing addictive behavior driving up the time spent in meetings
5.  He commissions a study which shows that among his employees, smartphones are being used in the following way:
– 85% are texting while driving
– 72% use their smartphones in the bathroom
– game playing and social networking are the most popular everyday use
– 80% use their device in meetings
– 28% are afraid that they’ll lose their jobs if they are not available on weekends
– 35% answer messages on sick days
– 45% check messages between 12am and 6am
– 70% believe that some overall productivity has been lost, even as 80% “enjoy” their device
6.  He decide to come down hard, and bans non-business apps from being used, blocks social networking and gaming websites and purchases a new technology to block internet access from smartphones within company vehicles, and meeting rooms
7.  The annual company survey reveals a new complaint — work-life balance is suffering as employees complain about being “always on” and required to be available to be at work even when they are trying to get away from work.  A quick check with IT reveals that the volume of email has exploded, driven by new messaging on weekends and holidays.  Also, they report that employees are taking inordinately long periods of time in picking up their gadgets for the first time, or retrieving them from the repair shop.
8.  The CEO establishes a joint team between IT/HR and Operations to look at the issue
9.  A followup study shows that 88% believe that overall productivity has fallen, and a mere 33% are “enjoying” their device
10.  The joint team recommends training for each employee, plus a raft of new policies about the company’s expectations of employees when they are not at work

If you can imagine this sequence of events, you can probably see that the initial error was to skip the customary needs analysis study that is required of large-system purchasing decisions.  The executive team, like many managers, made several assumptions about  their employees’ behaviors and needs.  What’s remarkable is that in this case, everyone is trying their best to save time and boost productivity, even as obvious mistakes are being made.

In most companies, however, a decision to provide employees with “time-saving technology” is made without a good understanding of the complexity of individual behavior in the area of time management.  They don’t take into account the fact that each employee has a unique, home-made productivity system that they put together for themselves as young adults or teenagers.

Employees lack the skill needed to evaluate their time management systems, in order to decide how best to affect an improvement.  That’s why so many unproductive, and unexpected habits cropped up in the “worst-case” described above.  The time-saving technology ended up affecting employee safety, productivity, etiquette and hygiene in negative ways.

Fortunately, there is a great deal that can be learned from the methods used to purchase large systems:
Lesson 1 — understand the current system to be improved.  In this case it means, bring every employee to the point where they understand their current time management system
Lesson 2 — help employees determine the gaps in their current systems, by giving them access to best practices
Lesson 3 — look for process changes that need to be made.  In the case of individuals, this translates into new habits, practices and rituals of time management
Lesson 4 — source new technology
Lesson 5 — train employees to use the new technology within company guidelines and policies
Lesson 6 — monitor the implementation and adjust as necessary

The case described above is not an example of one large mistake, but instead it involves a small mistake repeated many times.  The end-results are no different, but the lack of accountability for and measurement of individual productivity in most companies allows the problem to gain the momentum that it shouldn’t.

If there’s a place to start at a high level it might be to clearly assign responsibility for individual employee productivity to one executive, and give them the authority to decide on how best to use technology to make improvements.

P.S.  This is a new area of research for me, so I’d appreciate any related sources of information that you might know of.

Someone Else Agrees!

I found a website that echoes the very same thoughts I have shared on this site about the power of upgrading one’s Scheduling skills, and relying less on Listing.

I don’t think they have found this site, as they appear to have arrived at the same conclusions that I have independently, but they are the very first site I have found that (openly) agrees with what I have written.   When the number of time demands increases above a certain number, it’s time to upgrade one’s skills to prevent stuff from falling through the cracks.

The software that MyTimeFinder sells is interesting, but it appears to lack Outlook integration at the moment.  However, they are absolutely on the right track… but what do you think?

A Treasure-Trove of Data on Time Management Needs

In prior posts I have made the point that Outlook and Gmail have become much more than email programs.

While they both started out as email managers, they have become the primary portals that people use to manage time demands of all kinds. I have argued that they do a poor job for the majority of users because they are designed for email management, rather than time demand management.

Recently, Google opened up a site to ask for suggestions on how to improve Gmail. So far, they have gotten 2844 votes on all aspects of the program, but to my biased eyes, it seems as if there is a theme emerging.

Instead of just using lists of tasks, users want to integrate them into their calendars. (In the 2Time ranking of skills, it equates to an upgrade from Yellow to Orange Belt in the practice of “Scheduling.”)

I read through a few hundred suggestions and it struck me that anyone who is interested in creating a time management portal could use the information as market research — after all, this is a lot of data gathered from some very committed users of Gmail who are essentially asking anyone to come up with something better than the Gmail portal they are forced to use now.

I am not too optimistic, however, that Google will be able to make the leap that users want.

As I read through the suggestions, voted on quite a few and added some of my own, it struck me that the worst thing to do would be to figure out the most popular requests and simply add them to the list of features to be developed in the next release.

That’s a little like polling one’s family members to find out which surgery they think Great-Grandpa needs in order to get better.  In other words, it’ a bad way to make a decision of this complexity.

What Google really needs is not a bunch of suggestions, but some kind of time management philosophy around which to design an entirely new kind of portal that will be fully integrated into Gmail, and Google Calendar in a holistic way that mimics the habit patterns that users are likely to follow.

In this blog I offer a philosophy of sorts, and there are a number of books and websites that do the same. Adding more features willy-nilly will simply leave the door open to a competitor who gets it, and offers users a portal that puts the task of email management in its place alongside a number of other tools that people use to manage their time.

This isn’t to say that the research Google is doing is useless. Far from it. But it needs a context or framework to make all those suggestions come to life, and to prevent Gmail from simply becoming another Outlook in terms of its zillions of features, and heavy ponderous feel.

Check out the suggestions or add your own here on the Google website.

If you have a comment or question about what I have said in this post, let me know below.


Lessons from GMail’s Priority Inbox

You may have read my prior post on the reasons why GMail’s Priority Inbox doesn’t deliver on the promises it makes (even though it is a _very_ nice innovation.) If not, click on my article entitled: Why GMail Priority Inbox Won’t Work.

I wrote a followup article for the Stepcase Lifehack website that goes a bit further, and shares some of what I have learned from looking at new technologies and how they should be incorporated into one’s personal system.

Click here to be taken to:  Lessons on Email Processing from GMail’s Priority Inbox.

Choosing My First Smartphone (for Productivity’s Sake)

If you are a frequent reader of this site you will know that I have questioned at length the unproductive practices and habits that have arisen around smartphones.

With that in mind, I have decided to start a quest to discover whether or not I can boost my productivity with a Blackberry, iPhone, Android or one of the newer devices.  I am going to share the process with readers, and I kicked this off with a new article over at the Stepcase Lifehack website, entitled:  How I’m Getting a Smartphone, While Avoiding Crazy Habits.

I may choose not to make a purchase, by the way… find out more by reading the article.

P.S. I just made a video to help describe what I’m doing by trying to make a “smartphone decision.”

Wish me luck!

An Update from Jamaica

It’s been a while since I’ve posted due to one significant interruption — civil unrest here in Jamaica.

I won’t rehash the reasons why it’s happening, as the news reports have been doing a fairly good job of that.  But for those who might be wondering, I am fine and so are my friends and family.

It’s been a difficult time, and in Kingston we are still under a state of emergency, with curfews being imposed  in different parts of town, at undeclared times.

(If you are coming to Jamaica on vacation, don’t worry too much, as the hotels are on the other side of the island and have not been affected.)

It all reminds me of why I am interested in time management in the first place — it’s the kind of everyday “up and down” that I had to get used to when I returned to Jamaica that made me realize that the way I was managing my time would have to be upgraded.  (You can read my bio linked to the About page to find some more details on what particular story.)

I also realize that my latest point of focus — “Time Management in the Smartphone Era” — is also heavily influenced by being in Jamaica, simply because our cell phone adoption rate is one of the highest in the world.  I cannot think of a single person here in Jamaica who doesn’t have a cell phone, including the guy who wipes windshields at the traffic light for small change!

The high adoption rate has meant that I am exposed to companies whose entire executive teams are heavy Blackberry users, and are rapidly picking up the unproductive habits that I have mentioned on this site, and will expand on in future posts.

Stay tuned.

iPhone Withdrawal

A journalist/blogger, Topher, is undergoing sever Tech withdrawal by not using his smartphone for (gasp) an entire week.

Follow jos journey back to the land of the techno-dinosaurs by reading his first account: Tech-Torture with Topher: Bye-Bye Smartphone, and follow his adventures on Twitter.

(I’ll break the suspense by revealing that he’ll still be checking email the old-fashioned way — outside of meetings, away from conversations, far from his car and between the hours of 6am and 12am.)

Check the comments…

Embedded video from <a href=”http://www.cnn.com/video”>CNN Video</a>

Time Zones and Outlook Problems with Scheduling

tzmap.jpgIn an earlier post entitled: Outlook’s Shortcomings 5 -Scheduling, I described one of the problems with Outlook — it’s not designed to help a user to use it’s calendar function to manage their daily activities.

Instead,  it was only added on to the email program as a nifty way to keep track of appointments.

Users who have moved up a belt level and want to use an electronic schedule to plan and execute their day, quickly come across the program’s limitations.

One of them involves changes in time zone, a problem that I happen to be having.

The program changes entries in the calendar in an unpredictable, seemingly random way when timezones are crossed, leading to chaos.

The advice given below by pcmag.com in their article “Outlook Time Zone Problem” clearly shows the thinking that Microsoft has used — the calendar is for appointments with other people.


Outlook Time Zone Problem


discuss  Total posts: 22

I recently moved from New York to Washington. If I change the time zone in Windows from Eastern to Pacific, Outlook shifts all my appointments 3 hours. Is there a way to disable this feature? I always enter my appointments in local time and I never make calculations based on time zones when scheduling.

Blaze Cook

Microsoft Knowledge Base article number 290835 explains that if you have an appointment at 9 A.M. and then change the time zone from Eastern to Pacific, the appointment will automatically change to 6 A.M. Microsoft states that this feature is useful if you travel with your computer, but those of us who do travel with our computers know that the opposite is true. If you’ve set up three dozen appointments with clients at a trade show in another time zone, you’re in a bind. You can set your laptop to the local time zone, which changes your appointment times, or you can leave it set to your home time zone, in which case you won’t get timely reminders.

According to Microsoft, the solution is to export your appointments, change the time zone, delete the now-incorrect appointments in Outlook, and re-import the exported appointments. In your case, where you’ve moved permanently to the new time zone, you can process all of your appointments that haven’t yet occurred. If you need to change appointments during a business trip to another time zone, you can filter the exported appointments so the list includes only those meetings scheduled to take place during the trip.

Click here to be taken to the original article.