Sunday, November 27, 2016

The New Workplace Is Agile, and Nonstop

Whether you like it or not, your boss may want you to start acting more like a programmer.

In offices ranging from a museum in Sydney, Australia, to a car dealership in Maine, to the tech department at the insurance giant Allstate, the work force is adopting a tech industry concept called agile computing.

No doubt, Silicon Valley has changed how we work, for better or worse. Our smartphones keep us connected to the office all the time while internet searches bring the world’s information to our fingertips.

But people may not realize that it is the subtler aspects of how tech companies operate that often have a more lasting effect on other industries.

The “agile” part of this increasingly popular management concept is simple: Rather than try to do giant projects that take months or even years, create small teams that do a bit at a time. This way, small problems don’t balloon into enormous ones hidden inside a huge bureaucracy. And progress can be measured in small steps — one little project at a time.

The idea has been around for at least 15 years. It is used by the small tech company Twilio, for example, to turn out 40 changes to its product every day. But it wasn’t until recently that this sort of employee organization found its way into other industries or even into the technology departments of other companies.

“Folks want to talk about the Airbnb and Uber, but this is like when the assembly line showed up,” said Douglas Safford, Allstate’s vice president of technology innovation. “All the layers and specialization are breaking down. Instead of a year, we want to put an idea in front of a customer in a week.” (...)

Now cloud computing — putting your data or your software on the servers of a giant data center that is accessible through the internet — is having an outsize influence. Cloud computing (a technology) and agile computing (a management concept) have proved to be a strong combination for creating and tweaking products faster than the competition.(...)

“There’s a lot of talk around the water cooler about how easy it is to pick up more work when you get home,” said Mr. Collins. Some of the museum workers have found other cloud-based tools to compensate — ones that shut off access to work after, say, 7 p.m.

There is also a question of identity in this new workplace: If you are asked to be flexible and jump from one little project to another without hesitation, what sense of ownership do you have of your work?

“It’s like you have to constantly walk through walls, producing fast, with no chance to regroup,” said Ms. Hinds. “As humans, we crave being known for something. If you’re constantly moving in and out of teams, what’s your identity?”

by Quentin Hardy, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Whitten Sabbatini