Reducing Friction in Knowledge Work
Jim McGee writes:
Unlike physical processes or information factory processes, knowledge work processes aren’t readily susceptible to conventional reengineering/industrial engineering approaches. You can’t impose industrial structure and control on these processes without destroying the fluidity and adaptability that characterizes them as knowledge work processes.
That raises the question of what can you do to make those processes more effective and possibly more efficient. I have a series of concepts I use as heuristics to make a knowledge work process better. I find them helpful for my own thinking. I’d be curious to hear whether others find these helpful as well as what else they find useful when attacking knowledge work.
I look at four things when I look at a knowledge work process; friction, visibility, indirection, and granularity. Today, I want to focus on friction; we’ll come back to the others in later posts.
In conventional process design work, you look for bottlenecks; places where work backs up. Break the bottleneck and move on to the next one. I think of friction as the things that create bottlenecks or slow knowledge work down. It’s a bit more subtle than just focusing on obvious bottlenecks.
Let’s start with some examples of some friction reducers I currently take advantage of in my own work.
My preference for using RSS aggregators can be viewed as one example of attacking friction in knowledge work…I can monitor an order of magnitude more material than I can by trying to manage and visit sites via a blogroll.
I’ve been a long time proponent of ActiveWords because of its ability to attack knowledge work friction in so many ways. Not having to remember a web address or not having to type out words and phrases I use frequently smooths my day.
Software isn’t the only way to attack friction in knowledge work (as often as not software solutions add friction). Good ideas by themselves can help. David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach is full of ideas that attack friction. One of his ideas I like best is the notion of to do lists that are organized around the context of where they can be used.
Thinking in terms of friction can be helpful because it lets you identify opportunities for improvement without having to redesign or replace entire processes. I don’t need to rethink my entire information scanning process to get benefit out of using RSS and news aggregators.