A friend of mine uses sophisticated manufacturing techniques and machinery to create spectacular sculptures. Each time he releases a new piece he writes a comprehensive analysis of the work itself. But more importantly, he often reflects on the context of the piece as either art, engineering or craft. Often the conclusion is that the piece doesn’t belong to any one domain, it’s not defined by any domain, and yet it exists in and draws from all of them at once.
Technology professionals and manufacturing techniques
Over the years, our organisational contributions as technology professionals have followed a very similar course to that of my friend’s work. Our organisations have demanded an evolution from functional engineering exercises to complex strategy and solution formulations that are at once operationally useful, architecturally sound, and reasonably adaptable. We might call this new set of skills the “Craft of Technology.” Through the last few years and now into the post-COVID-19 world, it has become clear that teams working within this model have been more valuable to organisations than those that have resisted a move away from business as usual.
So what themes, attributes, behaviours, and skills contribute to teams working within this craft of technology model?
Here are three that are foundational to any team working successfully within this model:
Education in technology
First is the ability to self-promote through education. Over the years, technology teams have been called “black boxes.” Inputs go in, some magic happens, and outputs come out. The business has little understanding of how anything happens within the teams. There is even less understanding of individual roles within the teams. Teams that open this box and educate the business in who and how the technology team executes their work, leverage that mutual understanding to have much better conversations within the organisation and ultimately deliver greater value to the business.
Second, teams that take time to build a “human API” will be able to coordinate better and solve the difficult problems they face more efficiently. Simply defined, a human API is the collection of intentionally built and cultivated communication pathways between team members. Developing a shared understanding of each other’s skills and more importantly an understanding that no single team member can deliver a complete solution allows teams to work more effectively when unexpected technical problems arise or when they face interesting business cases to solve. Critically this API begins within the technology team, but the most successful teams will extend this idea across the organisation.
Awareness and understanding
Third, teams that develop the ability to look beyond their own surroundings – to draw learning and inspiration from inside and outside the organisation demonstrate a growth mindset that is key to modern technology strategy. Consider teams that arrived at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic with knowledge of only the tools and technologies immediately available to them. That lack of imagination and awareness has a predictable outcome in fast changing environments. The teams fail to adapt and as a result the organisation fails to adapt. Successful teams extend this thirst for learning and adaptability to all corners of the business. They seek to understand how contract negotiations have accelerator effects on P&L statements, they learn about other team operations that then drive new insights across the organisation. For example, a team that understands a customer service team’s workflow may suggest ways to use reliability engineering metrics such as SLAs, SLOs, and SLIs to improve that team’s results. Likewise, integration into product teams and understanding ‘Design Thinking’ principles help these teams become a voice in product discovery and product design from the start. Investment in this type of learning builds a greater contextual reserve than ever before.
Developing an understanding across all areas of technology
By all reasonable expectations, the next few years will continue to demand rapid technology lifecycles, brand new technology architecture ideas, and an increased expectation that technology can be a nearly invisible and frictionless component of any business strategy. Continuing to develop these “Craft of Technology” practices within our teams will give them the best chance to deliver on those demands.