An office chair with a giant thermometer in the seat

Can You Measure A Team Member’s Productivity By The Temperature Of Their Seat?

There’s an irrational and harmful idea that’s been floating around in the business world for a while.
Ok, fair enough, there are a lot of irrational and harmful ideas that have been floating around in the business world for a while.
And also, yes, fair, the idea I’m about to point out is not even one of the worst ones.
But it’s just so damned annoying and mystifying.
The idea is this: You can measure a team member’s productivity by the temperature of their seat.
If you see your team member at their desk, looking at a screen with some worky lookin’ stuff on it (like a spreadsheet or a code editor) then they must be being productive.
The other part of this idea is that if you can’t see your team member looking at a screen with code or TPS reports or whatever the hell it is they’re supposed to be looking at, then there is absolutely no way you can tell if they’re goofing off or not.
Forget everything you’ve “learned” in the business world and just give this idea the smell test…
Smells fishy right?
Measuring productivity is not straightforward. There are whole libraries on this topic. Do you think any of them are interested in seat-butt warmth?
Then why should you be?

Beware Of Jumping To Conclusions

It’s a good idea to study successful and unsuccessful businesses. But beware of jumping to conclusions.
There are a lot of reasons a business might fail even if they’re doing everything right.
A/B tests have a big flaw. Real scientific experiments are designed to account for all variables, to be repeatable.
You can’t really do that in a business, so false positives/negatives are always possible.
Economic conditions can change. Deals can fall through for all kinds of reasons. You can just have bad luck.
You can have good luck too, or be unfairly privileged in some way.
The mere fact of a business’s success or failure is not enough information to conclude anything.
A cartoon of a phone with a baseball app growing out of a cornstalk in a corn field

If You Just Build It They Won’t Come

When making a product or service. The smart thing to do is learn from from potential customers about a problem or pain point they have and then try to figure out how to solve that problem.

But there’s this temptation a lot of people have to just get started. “C’mon, we know what our customers are like. We know what problems they have. Let’s just build it.”

I feel it myself, but this is a bad impulse. Human beings are complicated. There’s really no telling what they’ll do until they actually do it. I mean, you’ve met our species right?

If you want to have a successful business, I strongly encourage learning customer development, the process of discovering who your customers are.

And please, please, please don’t think it’s just a matter of asking people what kind of product they like and what features they’d like. Again, you have met our species yes?

Maybe you’ve dealt with customers before? Have you ever worked in retail? Do customers strike you as people who can clearly tell you the kind of product they’d buy and then, when you build it for them, actually buy the thing they described?

A good place to start is this video series on customer interviews:

In this series you’ll learn the basics of interviewing potential customers. Basics likeĀ don’t pitch a product, this should seem obvious but you want to learn about their pains and problems, not sell them something. Your’e trying to find out what it is they’ll buy.

Another basic isĀ don’t ask customers about future behavior. In the future, all customers will go to the gym 7 days a week, and they’ll only eat a vegan diet. In the future they’ll never stay up late, they’ll always be nice to everyone around them, and they’ll definitely buy your product.

If you ask a potential customer about their current or past behavior, well, it turns out they do in fact stay up late, and they meant to go to the gym… and I see you get the point.

Again, watch that video series. It’s really good.

the word "listen" with cartoon ears on either side

Listen To Your Customers

A client and I recently met at a coffee shop to discuss a project. After a talking for a while it became clear that we were talking in circles. There was some kind of disconnect between us and I couldn’t figure out what it was.

After thinking about it afterwards, I think I figured it out. I had spent so much time trying to nail down what kind of app they wanted to build that I didn’t stop to consider what kind of help they wanted from me.

We had talked about doing a complete rewrite of an app they had only partially finished. However, after a long talk I discovered they weren’t completely sold on the whole rewrite idea. I should have picked up on this and figured out that what they might have wanted was for me to just work on the existing app, flawed though it was, instead of rebuilding it.

When you’re talking to customers you need to tease out what their interests are. What are they looking to achieve? What are their problems? What pains are they experiencing?

It’s exactly the same process when building a product. It’s all well and good to have an idea of what a customer might want or need. That’s a good starting point but it’s only the first step.

The next step is to actually listen to your customers, observe how they interact with what you’ve built, and discover what it is they actually need. This is almost always different from what you think they need.

cartoon picture of milk, butter, and a box of software

Not All Software Is The Same

I once overheard an executive of a company say that software is a commodity. He said that it doesn’t matter who you hire to write your software so you should hire the cheapest developers you can get.
Hoooo boy, is that ever not true.
The difference between a good software developer and a not-so-great one can mean the difference between success an failure of your product.
Good software developers also choose languages, frameworks, and other tools that allow them to move fast.
Good software is written in such a way that’s easy to change so that you can quickly change in response to user feedback.
The faster you can build your product, the faster you can get it in the hands of customers and learn from them. The easier software is to change, the easier it will be to respond to what you’ve learned from customers with a new version of your product.
In short, a good software developer can get you to product-market fit, and profitability, more quickly.