The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Has the agile caused a reduction in critical thinking?

 

thinking.pngLately, I’ve been talk to some folks about problems they are having in their production environments. As I talk with them about the issues they encounter it seems clear they don’t even know their environment well enough to ask the right questions, let alone answer them.

 

Critical thinking skills were something where a great deal of work was focused on when computing resources were scarce and thinking time was relatively abundant (because you were sitting around waiting for code to compile). Now those forced breaks are rare, so people spend their time iterating through the coding process without having a chance to take a step back.

 

I don’t think agile techniques should cause a reduction in critical thinking, but I just see the potential is there to not really understand the architecture, the business rational… - since most developers are now so enamored with having working code. If you’re properly doing code reviews/walkthroughs you can outsource some of that big picture work to someone else and you’re forced to think it through.

 

Lately I’ve been looking at Lean Six-sigma techniques and applying them to operations management. This view is not anything new, but the abundance of computing capabilities should allow us to drive the costs out of its application. This technique usually involves asking these same kind of big picture questions although operations is a bit late in the process for that.

 

Do you see these issues too? What do you do about them?

 

Strategy and abundance?

 

business questions.pngMcKinsey had an interesting article titled: What strategists need: A meeting of the minds. In the article, various strategic thinkers expressed their concerns and views on what will affects corporate strategy efforts.

 

Tthe views on strategic frameworks and goals were enlightening, but it felt to me they were too scarcity focused and not embracing the shift in what is abundant around them. It may be that they view those shifts as tactical in nature, or too simple a foundation for strategy – but I see them as low hanging fruit for organizations to consume. It creates options that can be used to advantage quickly.

 

A point made in the article I’ve seen played out over and over:

“while analysis is very important, developing strategies is ultimately a people-centric process fueled by conversation. Each player brings his or her experiences and biases to the table, and the job of crafting a strategy is to navigate those in a way that is productive. The key is the good questions, and any advice on how to improve questions would be really helpful.”

 

It is often better questions, not better answers that makes the difference in strategic efforts, often those questions can be scarce.

 

A tool for innovative change – peer coaching

cooperation2.pngI was reading a post titled: Peer Coaching as a Tool for Culture Change, in the context of the post on innovative change I made last week and technical leadership in general. In the article it states:

“Given the complex nature of global organizations today, as well as their growing reliance on full-hearted engagement of human talent, culture is increasingly recognized as the nub of challenges resistant to logistical fixes.”

 

Although the article states that “peer coaching was most widely used by educators”, it has been part of my career almost since its inception. The constant reinforcement of goals, initiatives and personal responsibility are essential to getting a group to all row in the same direction. As organizations increase their span of control between the formal leaders and the individuals, spreading change reinforcement across the technical leadership is important – coaching both down and up the organization.

 

The technical changes underway (based on an abundance of IT capabilities) are facilitating a quite different world than just a few years ago, so a range of techniques will be needed for the culture to embrace them. Sure some of the same issues exist and the same solutions will work, but there are new options and an ever changing diverse set of perspectives and techniques will be required. Tapping into that diversity is one of the side benefits of this kind of peer coaching, since the bi-directional sharing of ideas is at its core.

 

What tools do you think are underutilized to enable change? Who have you talked to about this gap?

Blindsided by strategy?

strategic questions.pngI’ve mentioned before the relationship of abundance, scarcity and their role in strategy. As I was catching up on my reading this weekend, I came across the post: Where Are the Sinkholes in Your Strategy? Which touched on many of the same points I was thinking about but with better examples.

 

One great point brought out in the post was:

“Strategy is a lot like IQ for many people: to challenge their strategy is to question their intelligence.”

 

In this dynamic world, we need to bring in diverse viewpoints on a regular basis, because our assumptions of what we’re good at and what can differentiate us can be easily overcome by events. That doesn’t mean we can’t have strategy. We just need to validate its foundations more often.

Serious gaming that takes nerve…

neuron.pngEarlier this month I saw an article in Popular Science: Gamers Reveal Inner Workings of the Eye. Since I have an interest in gamification, I dug in a bit more. It turns out there was a story in May on NPR morning edition Eyewire: A Computer Game to Map the Eye that covered the same concept.

 

Eyewire is an example of a serious game that tackles a real problem using gaming techniques. It is not your typical business gamification implementation but an example non-the-less. To play the game, he players have to pick out specific cells in pictures of tissue the retina and color them in.

 

“Each player gets a high resolution picture of a different section of the retina to color. The trick to scoring point in the game is to only color the parts of the image that are nerve cells. This is something that's surprisingly difficult and humans are actually better at it than computers.”

 

Over 130,000 people from 145 countries have played the game so it must be both challenging and rewarding.

 

When we look at the abundance of IT capability and the wealth of information being generated by the Internet of Things, we are likely to see whole new levels of gamification techniques come into play, as we try to dig deeper for patterns and understanding or gather and inject insight right at the time decisions are being made.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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