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I am especially interested in data input ergonomics: keyboards, mice, and chairs, but would also like to hear about other ergonomic improvements that changed project performance. References to specific research, case studies, or best-practice sheets would be greatly appreciated.

The question is: Do ergonomic keyboards, mice, or chairs make a difference in delivering projects on time, on budget, or according to spec?

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    Hi, maybe a question to TheWorkplace? – Tiago Cardoso Nov 25 '13 at 9:42
  • I just transferred it from there, mods said it was unappropriate there :) – drabsv Nov 25 '13 at 9:47
  • Hm, it concerns project management as far as productivity is concerned and as far as project managers bear the role of decision-makers/ initiators of such practices. How would you better rephrase it? – drabsv Nov 25 '13 at 11:29
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    I took a stab at clarifying the question and making it more applicable to the site. – Mark Phillips Nov 25 '13 at 13:37
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    Welcome to PMSE! Questions asking us to recommend or find tools, books, study materials, or other off-site resources are off-topic as they tend to attract opinionated answers and spam. Instead, please ask targeted questions about a specific process or project management knowledge domain. – Todd A. Jacobs Nov 25 '13 at 15:18
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I've enjoyed studying this topic of input devices and ergonomics at the Institute of Perception Research in Eindhoven (too bad it no longer exists separately as part of Philips NatLab; it was a cool place to acquire the MSc.).

The question for a project manager can be rephrased as "How do I get more output squeezed out of the team" since all types of actions can be taken. And many pay off already within a reasonable size project. Such as defining a good process, labor instructions, motivation and a good desk.

Productivity is composed of people, tools and processes. And working on each of these three, you can improve throughput by each one considerably.

Back to the question; yes, the choice of input devices can have an impact on direct productivity (number of correct computer interactions per second) as well on indirect productivity (how happy are you with your work).

Regarding environmental factors, there are numerous studies available when you use google scholar to look for "ergonomics" or "information ergonomics". It is not uncommon that a different set up can easily double the direct throughput within the project. Prolonging research on productivity tools can even further raise the productivity. Which is good, otherwise we would all be still hunting mammuts using a wooden stick.

But also please note that for "creative" projects the soft factors can have a much higher influence than the environmental factors. An old book from IBM has interesting numbers. For software engineering (which is my business) I like the books from Microsoft Press which besides normal bla bla on project management include many real-life problems faced within Microsoft. Some titles:

  • Software Project Survival Guide
  • Code Complete
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This question is applicable to project management as it is in all other types of operations, whether it is knowledge type work or labor. The application of the science is through generalization of the findings versus a study that shows a direct correlation between a project optimized ergonomically and one that is not.

The challenge in answering this question is setting expectations that you do not have a cause and effect between an egonomic station and cost, schedule, and scope performance. There are an infinite number of variables, including a host of uncontrollable, random variables, that ultimately affect where we end up with cost and schedule and scope quality. Our jobs as project managers, and operations managers for that matter, are to increase the likelihood of favorable results by pulling the levers and pushing the buttons that are known to help with the full understanding that you still have risk of poor performance and complete failure.

Googling ergonomics and performance yields a host of scientific findings that suggest improved musculoskeletal and visual performance via lack of symptoms or employee complaint. One could easily conclude that, in most cases for much of the time, performance should be improved by providing ergnomic work stations.

Personally, I do not think there is much debate around this topic so I would certainly include an ergonomic work station and environment, and the cost thereof, in my project planning. While the results are no where guaranteed, no magic bullet, these are the right levers to pull to help increase my odds.

Two studies:

Health and Performance Consequences of Office Ergonomic Interventions Among Computer Workers, Michelle Robertson

Office ergonomics training and a sit-stand workstation: effects on musculoskeletal and visual symptoms and performance of office workers. Robertson MM, Ciriello VM, Garabet AM.

The abstracts are available online; however, you might have to pay to see the entire study.

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TL;DR

This question is only indirectly related to project management, and isn't answerable in the way that you're asking it. In addition, requests for off-site resources or search-engine type questions are always off-topic.

That said, perhaps a valid answer is to simply point out where your question tangentially intersects with Project Management, and where it does not. With that in mind, I offer you the following guidance.

Applicability to a Project

While productivity is something that might concern a project manager, ergonomic equipment is more of an HR or facilities issue. The real impact to the project would generally come in the form of:

  1. Process issues, such as whether team members can request ergonomic equipment and the procedures for doing so.
  2. Budget issues, such as whether such equipment is a cost to the project or to some other organizational unit.

Ergonomics as a Science

It seems like common sense to say that if you don't have people losing working hours to back pain or carpal tunnel syndrome then you will avoid preventable losses to productivity. If, on the other hand, your question is more along the lines of "How much faster will my programmers type if I get them ergonomic equipment?" then I think you will need to turn to research literature.

Setting aside people's physical comfort and required accommodations, in my experience people on knowledge-based projects spend more time thinking than they do typing or mousing around, so my expectation would be that any real productivity improvements will come from the health and happiness of the team members rather than from any measurable improvement in systems input.

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