Microsoft’s ‘Productivity Score’ — filling a multi-decade-old critical need

Editor’s note: Microsoft is a client of the author.

Every vendor that has ever briefed me on a productivity product has argued that it will significantly improve employee productivity. Few vendors have proven that outcome, however, so the claim has become something of a bad joke over the decades. That’s not to say that there are never any productivity benefits, but when you make an employee more productive, it is almost impossible to measure by how much — and whether the product made a difference. When you free up time, it’s not as if employees suddenly don’t have things to do; they just move on to other tasks. And if they are salaried, you may not even see a difference in output because they may be working longer hours to get their tasks done. 

Every product that claims to boost productivity needs a metric that a buyer can rely on to justify the claim. While I can understand why vendors haven’t pushed for a productivity score, I’m surprised buyers haven’t required this to validate vendor claims after deployment. 

This week, Microsoft moved to address the problem, at least with its Microsoft 365 line, with a new Productivity Score effort launched Oct. 29. This is particularly timely because with people working at home and companies reporting productivity improvements, we need to answer a critical question: Is the employee more productive in terms of work-per-hour or merely by working longer hours. (The latter could be damaging the quality of their lives and eventually lead to a backlash.)

The nature of a productivity benchmark

Now, if folks are on an assembly line, say making candy, you can measure how much candy their station passed through. (Granted, you’d have to watch for cheating and whether the station was a bottleneck.)  But knowledge workers have many different tasks and requirements such as whether they are effectively collaborating or using their time in the most efficient way possible given the tools they’ve been given. You’d also want to compare one similar employee to another and get recommendations about how to improve the score, recommendations that would go to both management and to the employee.

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Critical to complex tools like Microsoft 365, which has productivity features users may not know about or have time to learn, offer enough granularity to make comprehensive recommendations and optimize the workforce. 

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.


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