The 6 Best Productivity Strategies for Managers

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What are the best productivity strategies? How can you use these strategies to increase your output?

Productivity strategies can help you decide what increases output and what doesn’t. Then, you can use the strategies to build on your success and continue to manage effectively.

Read more about productivity strategies and how they work

Productivity Strategies

In the previous chapter, you learned how to increase your productivity by taking inspiration from manufacturing’s production process. In this chapter, we’ll look at some other manufacturing strategies that can aid productivity, as well as strategies for efficient and productive meetings.

Other Productive Manufacturing Strategies

These productivity strategies can help you decide what will work best for your team. Remember that they are based off manufacturing strategies, so you may have to experiment to see what works.

Strategy #1: Use Indicators

Indicators, or measurements, tell manufacturers (or managers) about what’s going in the production process (or administrative process) and provide information about output. 

There is a myriad of possible indicators ranging from equipment downtime to profit to customer satisfaction. To determine what your indicators should be, ask yourself what information you want to know first-thing every day to head off potential problems. Effective indicators must:

  • Measure output rather than activity. For example, it’s more important to know how many orders a salesperson received than how many calls she made.
  • Be physical and countable. For example, a janitorial indicator might be the number of square feet cleaned.
  • Tell you if you’re going to meet your operational goals. (Shortform example: The number of pages of a novel you write today will tell you if you’re going to finish your book by your deadline at the end of the month.)

For example, here are the five most important pieces of information to a factory manager:

  1. Sales forecast, which is how many sales you expect to make in a given time period. To inform your forecast, compare yesterday’s forecast to yesterday’s real numbers (the difference between them is called variance). This will show you if your forecasting is generally accurate or if you need to reconsider your approach.
  2. Raw material inventory, which is how much of the materials manufacturers need to make the product on hand. If you check this first thing in the morning, you have time to either order more or cancel a delivery, whichever is needed.
  3. Equipment condition. If something has broken down, manufacturers will need to get it fixed or adjust the process to work around it.
  4. Human resources. If some staff are sick, manufacturers have to call in extra help or take people off the less important jobs to cover the most important ones.
  5. Product or service quality. Manufacturers use a variety of measures for this indicator, such as customer satisfaction.

Indicators are very helpful in types of work besides manufacturing because they:

  • Provide clarity about individual and team goals
  • Make abstract tasks more objective
  • Allow for comparisons between different groups 
  • Help solve problems. When something goes wrong, you can look at your existing data to see where and how the problem might have started. If you don’t have data, you can’t do anything until you collect it, and in the meantime, the problem will likely worsen.

People tend to overreact to what they’re paying attention to. (Shortform example: If you’re trying to avoid overstaffing, you might inadvertently reduce your staff so much you don’t have enough people to manage the workload.) To avoid overreacting to an indicator, pay attention to all areas of your business. 

Strategy #2: Build to Forecast

The second of the productivity strategies is building to forecast, in which manufacturers (or managers) predict how many orders they’re going to get for each product and build enough to satisfy them. The advantage of building to forecast is that customers don’t have to wait for products. (If manufacturers waited until they had orders to start building—referred to as the “build to order” method—customers would have to wait longer for their products.)

  • Manufacturing example: Intel builds computer parts to forecast this because their throughput times are long and customers don’t want to wait for products.
  • Business example: As a manager, you can use your calendar to help you forecast demands on your time and how you’ll schedule them. The limiting step (the step that takes the longest or is most important) is scheduled firmly and the non-time-sensitive ones can offset where there’s space. 

Both sales and manufacturing forecast so that both departments are accountable for meeting their predictions, and they use stagger charts to help with accuracy. 

The disadvantage of building to forecast is that if the predictions are wrong, manufacturers end up with a bunch of leftover inventory or lack the inventory customers do want. However, this is still preferable to making customers wait.

Delivering built-to-forecast products involves two simultaneous processes with their own timelines. Ideally, both flows finish at the same time:

  1. Manufacturing flow, which involves getting the raw materials through production, to being finished goods, to the shipping dock.
  2. Sales flow, which involves finding customers, selling them the product, securing an order, and then shipping it.

However much you plan, it’s rare that the two flows line up exactly—sometimes, customers change their minds or there’s a mistake in the manufacturing process—which is where the slack (extra time or resources) you left in the system will come in handy.

Some businesses use both building to order and building to forecast—for example, the breakfast cafe builds breakfast to order (cooks only start cooking after a customer has ordered) but buys raw inventory (purchases eggs, toast, and coffee) based on forecasted demand because it’s not possible to acquire it instantly.

Strategy #3: Use Proven Processes

In manufacturing, most workflows are tested and well-worn. Manufacturers don’t waste time coming up with a new way to do something if there’s already a good existing way. Do the same as a manager. However, keep in mind that the value of a process is the logic behind its steps, not the steps themselves, so be open to changes if old processes become illogical. This is a popular one of the productivity strategies.

Strategy #4: Batch 

All manufacturing processes include set-up time, and if you can do all the activities that require the same set-up together, you can save time. This process is called “batching.”

  • Business example: It requires some time to get into the right mindset to read reports. Therefore, once you’re in the mindset, read all the reports at once.

Strategy #5: Don’t Overload Capacity

If a factory is already booked up, manufacturing leaders don’t start new projects because otherwise, the overload might cause a bottleneck and materials might have to be aborted at a higher-value stage because they spoil while waiting to move on to the next step. 

It’s harder to avoid overloading capacity in a managerial context because you don’t have the same capacity indicators as a factory, but you must have a vague idea of how much time it will take you to do your usual tasks. Say no to new projects you don’t have time for. (Remember that if you’re already fully booked, you can’t get the new project done. Also, remember that your time is finite, so anytime you say yes to something you’re turning down something else.)

Strategy #6: Distribute Workload

Factories try to evenly distribute their workload over time. Managers can benefit from this technique too. The main threat to an even managerial workload is interruptions because they unexpectedly increase workload. You can manage interruptions by taking inspiration from factory techniques:

Make standard (not custom) products. In this context, “products” are answers to questions that interrupt you, which usually come from subordinates or people you influence. Study these questions and prepare widely applicable responses. In addition to saving you time writing original responses every time, you can share these responses with others and delegate their delivery.

  • For example, many customers get in touch about refunds, and if you pre-prepare a response, you (and your subordinates) can give it to everyone with the same concern.

Take advantage of indicators. Indicators help you avoid losing time to interruptions by allowing you to do two things:

  1. Quickly address interruptions. If you have data on hand and readily available, you’ll be able to quickly and easily answer questions.
  2. Schedule problem-solving. If your leading indicators warn you that you’ve got a future problem, you have to deal with it before it explodes, but you don’t have to deal with it immediately and let it interrupt you.

Encourage other managers to embrace regularity. Because you work with them, your schedules have to mesh. 

  • For example, a company might reserve Monday mornings for planning group meetings. 

Batch subordinate interruptions. Don’t physically hide from your subordinates when you don’t want to be interrupted—their questions are legitimate. Instead, schedule a time when you’re available for questions.

  • For example, you might hang a sign on your door that says you’re doing individual work and that you’ll be available at a later time for questions. It should ask people not to interrupt you unless it’s very urgent.

Now that you know the productivity strategies, you can choose the best for your team.

The 6 Best Productivity Strategies for Managers

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Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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