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 to a car dealership in Maine, to the tech department at insurance giant Allstate, the workforce is adopting a tech industry concept called agile computing.
The 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.
“All the layers and specialization are breaking down,” said Douglas Safford, Allstate’s vice president of technology innovation. “Instead of a year, we want to put an idea in front of a customer in a week.”
Tech culture finding its way into other industries is nothing new. Decades ago, Intel’s founders tried to create an egalitarian culture where the chief executive sat among his employees, and everyone at the company shared in the risks and rewards through stock options.
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.
“Work has changed, and everyone needs more expertise, more consultation,” said Pamela Hinds, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford. “There’s more speed with which projects have to get out, because of competition, and people are pulled on and off projects much more.”
At the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney, a government-mandated transition from traditional computers to cloud-computing systems has everyone planning exhibitions and raising money on Jira, a software development tool for managing cloud projects quickly.
“Things move a lot faster, with fewer meetings,” said Dan Collins, head of digital and media at the museum. “Tools are more important than organizational charts.”
At Newcastle Chrysler, a car dealership in Newcastle, Maine, a former coder named Alex Miner installed a coding product called Hipchat throughout the family business. Like Jira, Hipchat is made by Atlassian, a company known for software development tools.
“Everything’s a lot more audited by sensors. I can tell one PSI off pressure in a tire from anywhere in the company and react to that,” he said, a reference to pounds per square inch. “The older guys in sales don’t want to adopt the new tech, but the service guys, they work together and they get it; the velocity is advancing everywhere.”
Tech industry coders are known for their all-night binges, so it is not surprising that copying the way they operate is leading to concerns about work taking over the rest of one’s life.
“There’s a lot of talk around the water cooler about how easy it is to pick up more work when you get home,” Collins said. 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.
Chef, a maker of tools for building cloud software, now sends consultants to its customers to explain to employees how all this is going to work.
“We don’t talk about work/life balance anymore,” said Barry Crist, Chef’s chief executive. “It’s work/life mix. If you need to be home at 4, then put your kid to bed and make up for it at 10 p.m., that’s fine. Younger people now want flux in their day, and they don’t want to turn off the information, ever.”