By Rob Knight
Do you ever get the feeling that your organization is less productive than it could be? That you would get so much more done if it wasn’t for the too-long and too-frequent meetings, the urgent messages about things that don’t matter, or the unwieldy project management system takes more effort to maintain than the real work does?
If so, you might be suffering from software sabotage. It’s probably not intentional, but your tools might be hurting more than they are helping.
Back in 1944, the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA, distributed a guide for its field agents. These agents managed spies behind enemy lines, often volunteers from countries under occupation. The guide suggests ways that a saboteur could interrupt important supply lines, destroy or damage equipment, or disrupt communications, using simple methods available to ordinary people with no special training. The final section, titled “General Interference with Organizations and Production”, describes how sabotage can even be performed by knowledge workers, bureaucrats, and managers.
But how? If you are a knowledge worker or a manager, what do you do? Well, according to the OSS, if you really want to sabotage your organization, you should do things like this:
- Insist that all decisions go through the “proper channels”, or require the formation of a committee
- Overcommunicate, mixing personal anecdotes into more formal communications
- Never miss an opportunity to pass comment on something, and bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible
- Prioritize unimportant work highly, and insist on perfection
- Hold conferences and meetings, even when there is more important work to be done
- Spread rumours and gossip
- Interrupt your own work, and the work of others, as often as possible
Now take a moment to think about the software tools you use. Do they encourage unnecessary meetings? Pointless communication that goes to more people than it needs to? Unimportant work taking up more space than things that really matter? Interruptions throughout the day? Perhaps the saboteur in our midst is the app we use to manage our work!
This is why we designed Legra to avoid these self-sabotaging features.
- You get your own personal to-do list, which can be prioritized by drag-and-drop, deadline, and schedule
- When collaborating with someone, you both get an item on your list to represent the collaboration, called a “shared intent”
- Discussion is scoped to the shared intent, making it easy to stay on-topic
- The discussion is with your direct collaborator by default, allowing others to be added only when necessary
- Shared intents are formed on the basis of mutual understanding between those directly involved in the collaboration
These basic features are designed to work with the human realities of collaboration, which is often inter-personal rather than committee-based. Information overload, poor quality of communication, and constant interruption are built into the design of many popular productivity apps, but their effect is to make us less productive. Our colleagues haven’t been trained as saboteurs by the OSS, but we’re all trapped in workflows that cause us to sabotage each other’s productivity on a daily basis.