5 things that are typically confused for productivity.

Jason Yip
Sep 5, 2023

Confusing responsiveness for productivity

…leading to excessive multi-tasking and lack of focus.

Multi-tasking A, B, C, D with context switching costs for each switch means everything takes longer to complete than doing A, B, C, D in sequence.
Respond to every request and multi-task vs focusing on one request at a time

Confusing lack of interruptions for productivity

…leading to false progress due to lack of necessary feedback.

One approach where the person is not interrupted but realises late that they built the thing wrong and needs to fix it. Another approach where the person is interrupted to get early feedback, realises they are building the wrong thing earlier, and fixes and finishes earlier.
Optimising for no interruptions vs optimising for early feedback

Confusing individual preferences/satisfaction with productivity

… leading to excessive handshaking across boundaries…

5 teams each with their own preferred protocol leading to a messy collaboration.
No shared protocol means messy collaboration

… AND lower performance habits.

“Technique A seems to be faster, easier, and more reliable.” “Yes, but I’m more used to Technique B and prefer it.”
Individual preference isn’t equivalent to more productive

Confusing utilization with productivity

…leading to too much WIP, longer lead times, and lower throughput.

4 people in a sequential process with the 3rd person overloaded as the bottleneck and the 4th person with nothing to do. “Everyone is busy, why aren’t we finishing faster? Must be the lazy person at the end.”
Optimising for utilization vs limiting WIP and addressing bottlenecks

Confusing raw throughput with productivity

… leading to “feature factories”.

Throughput of A is twice that of B. Differentiating features are worth 5 times commodity improvements. A mostly works on commodity; B mostly works on differentiating. A produces more stuff; B is actually more productive.
A has more throughput; B is more productive

See also



Jason Yip

Senior Manager Product Engineering at Grainger. Extreme Programming, Agile, Lean guy. Ex-Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl