Process versus outcome productivity

Several times over the last few weeks my hatred of Doodle polls has come up in meetings. I think the polling technology is great, but I’m still frustrated by the polls. Someone asked what I’d rather have happen and I said:

“set the meeting, then let me know when it is, if I can come I will. if i’m not there then i’m happy for you to decide without me”

I tried to think about why I feel this way about meetings and I realized that there is a tradeoff between process focused and outcome focused productivity. I’m sure this is a really well known phenomenon but I’m just figuring it out now.

The way I think about it is process focused productivity happens by performing things according a standard model. The pros and cons of this model are:

  • Pros:
    • The model can be easily communicated to new people
    • It is easy to measure whether people are doing “the right” thing
    • It makes it easier for people to know what to be working on
  • Cons:
    • Anything outside of the process is difficult
    • Processes may not be optimized for a specific goal
    • Suboptimal choices can be justified by process

Outcome focused productivity on the other hand focuses on accomplishing a goal but does not impose a standard process. The pros and cons of outome focused productivity are:

  • Pros:
    • Can be very efficient since the outcome is the focus
    • Removes barriers imposed by process bureucracy
    • Can reduce or eliminate unnecessary activities
  • Cons:
    • Requires everyone to know the goal
    • Can be much more free flowing and so harder to measure progress
    • Can be frustrating for people who have to be flexible about process

Elon Musk’s productivity suggestions are a limiting case of outcome focused productivity.

I realized that I much prefer outcome focused productivity to process focused productivity personally. But working for a large organization like JHU that uses process focused productivity can be frustrating. Doodle polls, standardized email servers, specific exam requirements, processes for meeting scheduling, etc. are all components of a process focused place like JHU. But they drive a person like me who likes outcome focused productivity totally bonkers. On the other hand, I’m sure I drive people around here nuts when I make decisions on the fly/at the last minute to adapt to circumstances to achieve the outcome I’m after.

I’m not sure there is any real solution for this conflict, I just realized this is the reason for a lot of separate different frustrations that have been bubbling up over the last few weeks/months. I wonder if anyone has a good idea on how to be an outcome focused productivity person inside a process focused productivity organization?

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