I’ve been exploring the role of deliverables in understanding and improving knowledge work for a while. In January, I took another shot at articulating the link in a column in the Enterprise Systems Journal putting deliverables at the center of the challenge of improving knowledge work.
Knowledge work does not produce standardized, well-defined outputs. Instead, the value of its outputs depends on how well they match the unique needs of their users. No one is interested in a spreadsheet full of someone else’s data; no teacher is likely to value a copy of a paper you’ve submitted to another class. Understanding what aspects and features of a knowledge work product are most valuable to its intended user is key to focusing efforts on producing the desired deliverable. [The Fundamental Secret to Improving Knowledge Work – ESJ].
Our experience in industrial settings encourages us to look at the output as something that is already well-defined and well-understood. We focus on process changes that will produce the output more quickly or more cost-effectively. When we are doing knowledge work, we do better to focus on the deliverable longer and more mindfully. At a minimum we need to understand the user’s definition of quality, the balance between uniqueness and uniformity that will meet this level of quality, and the conditions that must be met to declare the work done.