Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Smart Agile Computers, Smart Agile Systems and Smart Agile People ?

Smart Agile Computers, Smart Agile Systems and Smart Agile People ?

In the modern age of technology we have come along a long way since the digital revolution happened to the world. By accident or by choice the third industrial revolution has made the world a global village to use the cliché. It has helped generate huge number of jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurs in IT and software industry. Someone like Dr. Sugata Mitra, who prepared the first curriculum of NIIT could foresee the kind of jobs that lay ahead in the future. People like him, institutes like NIIT and number of other engineering colleges established a skill development system and embedded it, in far more established and well constructed education system so very well integrated and seamlessly that we today have one of the biggest IT workforce in the world.

Mobile revolution was next big thing that came along the digital revolution and is still evolving fast and furious. Indeed mobile technology has changed the way communication used to happen. Software computing and digital electronics have even made many of the seemingly indispensable things obsolete. Agile Methodology which is said to be introduced by Toyota in manufacturing industry found its way in software programming and  has triggered the pace of the development of new technologies that are coming up today. New technologies and features are being introduced in so short spans of time that technologies just five years old seem to be outdated.

What digital revolution has done to us is that it has not just changed the way we used to communicate but it has changed the way we used to live as well in many ways. It has changed the way people used to work. We evolved and adapted quickly to the changes in style of work but today is the need that we evolve quicker and adapt faster to newer systems. The trends and recent researches show that today we need to evolve faster than ever before. We need to predict quickly how the future jobs will be and have to be ready for them. May be in jobs in the future, a person may work from where ever, when ever and use the cloud ? Well, that is a question to be answered. One thing though is sure that we will have to evolve from our current working, education and skill development culture (or system if like to call it that way) to something more agile, learning oriented , self organized and innovative culture where knowing may become obsolete or of low importance.

The workforce we have today is more robust than agile and adaptive. It is a result of an age old education and working culture which was established in the Victorian period or the Age of Empires and has survived strongly till today. As Dr. Mitra pointed out in one of his TED talks that the need back then was to produce identical people who like the spare parts of a big computer (made full of people ) worked in synchronization and if one failed the other identical one could replace the old one. They set up a system so well constructed and robust he says, that it is still with us. We have failed to move ahead of it. The work culture where the employees aren't empowered. The freedom to seek curiosity and innovate out of it, isn't a big part of the working culture in India yet. In the age when we are making intelligent and smarter phones, people need to act smarter. When we want phones, tablets, computers and other devices to be able to work for us intelligently, we too need to act intelligent and evolve in the sense that we need to tap in the power that  mobile and digital technology have given us. The education and skills development system where the learner (or you may call it a student ) is not empowered but an instructor ( teacher )  forces knowing as a method to the pupils. It is imperative now for the skills development sector along with the education system to make the best use of technology and digitize itself.

 As agile has spread its roots in software development, it now needs to be accepted and implemented well in the working culture and education system that we have. The working culture and skills development go hand in hand with education being the backbone behind them. In agile, there are short spans set up to perform a task and a feedback is taken. The participants succeed or fail quicker. Since its a quick success or failure, agile gives an opportunity for quick feedback and adapt to the failures. This helps in adapting to changes quicker and evolve with real time. For instance, how many times does a curriculum in any skill development organization changes ? How quick the feedback from the industry are and how quickly does it adapt to the feedback will hold the key for better skill development programs. Similarly in education system today how quickly does the teacher or instructor adapt to the personal talents of each student? How does he adapt to different ways a student may be able to learn ? Is there a quick feedback of success and failure ? These factors in my opinion can help change the face of education system but one of the most important things will be to change the role of instructor to mediator who helps trigger learning rather than forcing just the habit of knowing. This will empower the student to learn the way he can. This will empower him by developing his ability to learn on his own. The core values though have to be imparted during any skill development program and they can be developed by reiterating the incidences which show that these are necessarily needed for further learning.

In the working culture in our industry, especially in the IT sector we need this more than ever now. The employer like the emperors in the Age of Empires doesn't like to empower his employees. The work force is so robust that they are reluctant to adjust and adapt. The very premise of agile, adaptability has to become a major part of work culture. I will like to narrate a very short story here. One of my old friend, a founder of well known start up company told me that he used to be very frustrated with the loss of productivity in his start up and he thought it was urgent to do something about it. His good and talented employees were willing to leave the organization. No one seemed ready to adjust and adapt. Negativity had just started to crawl in the system when an idea struck to him. He told me that he allowed his employees to work from where ever and when ever. Then the distribution of work was in a way that few employees had to overlap their time to discuss things. Since, the founder started to adapt and tried new things based on short success and failures in his employees productivity, it started to have its effect on the people in the company. They started adjusting. If an employee is not available on one channel, they tried other and didn't crib about other availability and non availability. The productivity did rise. It is amazing how small changes in short sprints based on the open minded feedback can turn around things. The maturity though, to adapt to this method of agile in the way of working and not just programming style is lacking in IT sector in India which prevents a lot of CEOs from adapting Smart policies which will have agile as the basis.

Some CEOs fear that if they empower the employees too much and give them just a bit too much freedom then it may result in high loss of company's core values. Though their fear seems valid, yet bringing agile as a work culture will surely help. The empowered and adapting employees are happier than the less empowered ones. To tell and retell the stories to the new and old employees can help in keeping the core values of the company in place. Telling the employees stories about the accomplishments and success of the companies will help them build confidence in those core values and narrating the incidences when company overcame negative and tough situations using those core values will help build the trust.

The maturity which is lacking has to be imparted as a part of skills development programs. The skills development programs themselves today need to evolve in short spans and be more agile than ever before. The focus should be self organization along with other skills imparted to have that mature work force ready to go out in the larger competitive world. Agile - Self organized learning and Agile - self organized working should be motto to ready the work force to perform their best.

The three keywords - Adapt, Empower and Narrate (Communicate) will help develop a better working culture and skills development sector in my opinion. In the age of Smart Devices and systems I wish we can become smarter people.

- Rishish Dubey

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