Sep 222016

In the previous section, we explored how technology can potentially free up capability. On a high-tech destroyer or in cyber-security, tech can “raise the game” of people in the enterprise.

Technology offers tireless, rapid, low-variance behavior. That doesn’t necessarily mean more intelligent behavior.

Lesson 2. Automation Is Necessary, But Not Sufficient

green-bar-paperOne of my first jobs was loading magnetic tapes onto a backup machine and physically delivering printed reports around the office. (Yes, green-bar paper!) Occasionally I’d mis-load a tape or deliver a report to the wrong place and oh boy, would the phones would start ringing. Cool story, bro, but now we’re better than that, right? Today we’d consider this an egregious waste of human talent.

Yet we think nothing of employees spending hours fighting Excel. Sorting, querying, transposing. We haven’t raised the game. We’ve just made it harder to win. Technology gives you more of what you already have, faster.

“S.S.D.D.” used to mean “Same Sh*t, Different Day” but now it means “Same Sheet, Different Data.”

Image: Walt Disney Co.

Mickey’s automation problems in Fantasia (Walt Disney Co.)

If you add automation without engaging your people, you accelerate whatever already exists in your org. And you may accelerate the bad faster than the good.

If your enterprise (starship, sailing ship, or company) is full of reporting, bureaucracy, fear, or butt-covering, adding a “technical solution” may just amplify that.

I’ve seen far too many orgs drowning in data, yet thirsting for insight. Where people have become servants of the systems, not the other way around. And the mission is forgotten.

The crew of the Zumwalt avoided this by designing around the human side of the equation. Every new shipboard computer system was prototyped and adjusted based on feedback from the crew. Then they trained hands-on, side-by-side with the engineers to be ready to sail the new space-age destroyer.

Electrician’s Mate 1st Class Donald Goldsberry and Electrician's Mate 2nd Class Radarwin Adams of the pre-commissioning crew of the future USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) train to use the common display system console and engineering control system screen navigation at Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division - Ship Systems Engineering Station (NSWCCD-SSES) in Philadelphia (U.S. Navy photo by Public Affairs Specialist Joseph Battista/Released).

Zumwalt crew members cross-train shared tasks on a shared console (U.S. Navy)

So pay close attention when you add technology. Consciously prioritize the human issues above the technological ones. Use technology to free your thought-workers for thinking. Be ever alert to the failure mode of people “feeding the machines.”

As a leader, you need to enable your teams to move from what to why.  You need to enable them to make the same shift that my friend’s “network operations security” team made when they graduated to “risk management.”

Set clear strategy, manage the work, and let people self-organize around it. Or your organization’s relationship with technology might look a bit like Mickey’s above.

In Lesson 3: Management Overhead, we’ll look at how raising the game for your people re-defines the value of “management.”

All articles in this series:

  1. Raise the Game — Automation is Required
  2. “Same Sheet, Different Data” — Tech is Not Enough (this page)
  3. Management Overhead — Reduce the Waste
  4. Team Skills Needed — Diversity, Communication, Mutual Support
 Posted by at 5:17 pm

  One Response to “Same Sheet, Different Data (Lessons from James Kirk’s Stealth Destroyer)”

  1. Cool! And this kind of thinking in the U.S. Navy is not new… I blogged about the approach to automation employed a century ago:

Your thoughts?