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Hip to be Square

To be fair and realistic, there are a couple of Laws of Economics we need to take into account. First, the Law of Diminishing Returns. As you may know, there are two types of work: effort-driven and time-driven. Effort-driven means the more labor we add to a task, the faster the work can get done. Take, for example, adding more people to a project of pulling network cable: More laborers usually mean the work will get done more quickly. Usually. We all know we'll reach a point at which adding workers can actually be counterproductive.

The second type of work is time-driven, which has a fixed duration. For example, it takes take the same amount of time to image a PC if there is one engineer or 12 assigned to the job.

With technology, we can assume that the labor equates to "power." In this instance, the more power we add to workstations, the faster the machines should react and ultimately result in more productive workers, right? Well, as the Law of Diminishing Returns implies, there will eventually be no realized gain on more power added to the workstation.

In other words, users may experience a huge increase in productivity in the initial months, but constantly replacing their equipment every 18 months doesn't always result in the same jump in productivity. Yes, I'll snub my nose at the over-belief in Moore's Law. (Moore's Law says that processing power doubles every 18 months. Processing power may double, but it doesn't always result in increased productivity.)

The next Law of Economics that affects this situation is Parkinson's Law, which says, "Work expands to fill the time available for its completion." In other words, if a worker says a task will take eight hours to complete, even if it should really only take four, the task will magically require eight hours to finish. In this scenario, imagine these 100 workers with their newfound speed: Will the workers become more productive or stay at their accustomed level of productivity?

For example, if a typical task required seven hours of effort before the technology upgrade, but now the same tasks require only six hours to complete, what happens to that extra hour? Solitaire or new responsibilities?

The last Law of Economics we need to take into consideration is the Learning Curve. When these users receive their new technology, what time will be "lost" to allow the users to be trained on the new technology? And how long will it take the workers to realize the possibilities of the new technology? And how long will it take the workers to return (and hopefully surpass) their normal load of productivity?

The second part of the Learning Curve, the good part, is what happens after the curve. Suppose you have to paint a house with 120 rooms, all of the same size. The first several rooms might take you a day each. But the more rooms you paint, the faster and more efficient you become in each room. That's the Learning Curve.

The same is true with my client's workers. At first, things will probably go a bit slower, but eventually the Learning Curve would kick in, and workers will become more efficient and (keep your fingers crossed) pass their original level of competence.

The combination of these laws affects productivity and efficiency. So the question becomes the following: What is the real worth of upgrading the technology? What is the actual time gained? Will it really be 3,033 billable hours? I doubt it. I would, however, wager my entire fee that the company would have more billable hours as a result of the upgrade.

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