Sep 232016
 

No, even though 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, I’m not talking about James T. Kirk and the starship Enterprise.

zumwalt

DDG-1000, the USS Zumwalt (U.S. Navy)

I’m talking about Captain James A. Kirk and the USS Zumwalt, America’s “largest and most technologically sophisticated destroyer.” The Zumwalt grabbed my attention when it was commissioned earlier this month because not only is it larger, more powerful, and stealthier than current destroyers, it boasts a crew that is half the size of other ships in its class.

The story of this real-life, science-fact-not-science-fiction vessel and her crew is a great read, and not just because of the cool tech.  There are many lessons here for leaders of non-military “enterprises” such as software development, business, scientific research, and non-profit/NGOs.

In this series, I’ll point out just four.

Lesson 1. Technology & Automation Are Required

The Zumwalt doesn’t have gunners’ mates to operate her guns, a separate radio room for communications, or a helmsman to steer the ship. All these tasks can be performed by an officer standing watch in the Ops Center because these routine, manual tasks are handled by automated systems.

The technology of automation is quite a bit more capable now than it was a decade ago.

A good friend of mine used to work in “network operations security.” His team would spend their days in repetitive tasks that resembled manual labor. Inventorying hardware and software. Researching the latest threats online. Manually patching vulnerabilities wherever they could. It was a Sisyphusian and sometimes scary job, always trying to stay one step ahead of the hackers.

Zumwalt Ops Center (Raytheon)

Zumwalt Ops Center (Raytheon)

But today my friend’s team has software to automate the tasks they used to do. The tech hasn’t replaced the people, it’s raised their game. The software still needs to be told what to do in order to accomplish the why of the company’s risk management strategy. And it’s my friend’s team — now called “risk management” — who is responsible for accomplishing that “why.” The tech has enabled his team to deliver better, stronger services to their company.

Proper automation can enable humans to focus on tasks like synthesizing information, making good decisions, setting strategy, and employing their own technical know-how.  Skills that, you know, require a human.

Let the machines handle the repetitive mechanical tasks; they’re better at it. Don’t expect your systems to be able to handle too much variance and unpredictability; that’s what your people are for. Use the tech to raise the game of your peoples’ service delivery. Tech should allow your people to directly implement the overall goals and strategy of your organization.

If you employ technology this way, you can free up your smart, motivated people from the routine tasks of data-gathering and paper-pushing. You can unlock a pool of potential capability for your organization.

In the next article we’ll look at why automation and technology, while necessary, are not sufficient.

All articles in this series:

  1. “Raise the Game” — Automation is Required (this page)
  2. “Same Sheet, Different Data” — Tech is Not Enough
  3. Management Overhead — Reduce the Waste
  4. Team Skills Needed — Diversity, Communication, Mutual Support