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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 395 features our essay on productivity.  While productivity might not be the coolest subject, understanding the concept is critical to every company’s and every worker’s financial well-being.

Gene Hughson brings another entry from his Form Follows Function blog to the Software Process and Measurement Cast. Gene discusses the idea of accidental innovation.  Gene suggests that innovation is not a happy accident, but is a result of a process, structure, and technology that can enhance innovation. However, it can just as easily get in the way.

In our third column this week, Kim Pries, the Software Sensei, brings us a discussion of how software developers leverage assimilation and accommodation in the acquisition of knowledge.


The more complex the door, the lower the 'door' productivity.

The more complex the door, the lower the ‘door’ productivity – but not always.

While productivity is a simple calculation, there are a few mistakes organizations tend to make.  The five most common mistakes reduce the usefulness of measuring productivity, or worse can cause organizations to make poor decisions based on bad numbers.  The five most common usage and calculation mistakes are: (more…)

Kafka Statue

Are you measuring a team effort?

Productivity is used to evaluate how efficiently an organization converts inputs into outputs.  However, productivity measures can and often are misapplied for a variety of reasons ranging from simple misunderstanding to gaming the system. Many misapplications of productivity measurement cause organizational behavior problems both from leaders and employees.  Five of the most common productivity-related behavioral problems are: (more…)

Not quite a Google bus

Not quite a Google bus

Labor, raw material, and capital productivity are easy concepts to understand.  For example, labor productivity is the ratio of the products delivered per unit of effort.  Increasing the efficiency of labor will either increase the amount of product delivered or reduce the amount of labor needed.  Raw material or capital productivity follow the same pattern. The issue is that while labor, raw materials, and capital explain a lot of the variation in productivity, they do not explain it all. And in software product development other factors often contribute significantly to productivity improvement. Total factor productivity (TFP) is not a simple ratio of output to input, but rather is a measure that captures everything that is not captured as labor, capital or material productivity. Factors included in total factor productivity include attributes such as changes in general knowledge, the use of particular organizational structures, management techniques, or returns on scale. The components in TFP are often the sources of productivity changes in software development.  (more…)


In simplest terms, productivity is the ratio of output per unit of input.

Almost every conversation about change includes a promise of greater productivity.  In simplest terms, productivity is the ratio of output per unit of input.  While the equation is for calculating productivity is straightforward, as we have discussed, deciding on which outputs from an organization or process to count is never straightforward. The decisions on the input side of the equation are often equally contentious.  Three critical decisions shape what measures will be needed to supply the inputs used to calculate productivity.   (more…)

Three Pencils

     How Many Pencils?

One of the most ubiquitous conversations that occurs in organizations is about productivity, although the word itself is rarely used.  The conversation might be about the need to get more value from the software development budget or the ability to deliver more new functions with the same staff.  The concepts of labor, capital, material and total factor productivity are an undercurrent in these conversations even if the word productivity is not directly mentioned.  There are several possible reasons why the word productivity is not used in polite software development company.  Those reasons range from a mistaken belief that productivity concerns are reserved for blue collar occupations to the complexity of defining productivity in software development and maintenance environments.  Complexity is often the most pernicious reason that keeps productivity in the background during strategic conversations that affect products and jobs. However, with the exception of total factor productivity, the mathematical computation of labor, material or capital productivity appears to be very straight forward. 

The equation for productivity equals output divided by input. The simplicity of the equation obscures the complexity hidden in the term productivity.

Unwinding the complex concepts of measuring productivity begins with understanding and making three critical decisions that define the output side of the equation. (more…)


Productivity is a classic economic metric that measures the process of creating goods and services.  Productivity is the ratio of the amount of output from a team or organization per unit of input. Conceptually productivity is a simple metric. In order to calculate the metric, you would simply sum up the number of units of item produced and divide it by the amount “stuff” needed to make those units.  For example, if a drain cleaning organization of three people cleans 50 drains per month, their labor productivity per month would be 50/3 = 16.6 drains per person. The metric is a sign of how efficiently a team or organization has organized and managed the piece of work being measured. There are four types of productivity.  Each type of productivity focuses on a different part of the supply chain needed to deliver a product or a service.  The four types are: (more…)