The manager’s guide to deputizing technology advocacy
A couple of months back, we provided some insight about how to manage the relentless pace of engineering and manufacturing technology by empowering the right talent at your company. One of those recommendations –make technology advocacy part of someone’s job description– seemed simple enough. However, you might have wondered how that might be possible in today’s engineering rush – when everyone’s in the middle of fifteen things, all of them annoying. That’s why we’re here.
Find the One
As a manager you’re critically short on time, and obviously you need someone to deputize. But who? The truth is you can’t make technology advocacy part of just anyone’s job description. You’ll need to find the one (or two or five), and preferably without the use of pills. Last time, we talked about technological intuition as the capacity to discover and adapt to technology, and that your clutch heroes or Shadow IT revolutionaries are equally likely to exhibit this critical talent.
But what if identifying a candidate isn’t quite so clear-cut? Don’t be deluded by ageism and automatically assume the youngest employee is the most technologically intuitive – you’ll find such talent among a diversity of people. If you haven’t directly observed technological intuition among your employees, understand that handling technology is fundamentally about coping with change. In case you didn’t get the memo, many people simply don’t like change. In fact you could say we hates it. Your technology advocate must undoubtedly be a change agent. So look for these specific traits in combination:
- Adaptability: Someone who will consider change thoughtfully.
- Open-mindedness: Someone who will embrace the change when warranted.
- Independence: Someone who will also convince others to do the same.
Legitimize the Effort
Once you’ve identified your technological deputy, it’s time to make technology an essential part of their responsibility. You can’t just give them a secret whenever-you-get-around-to-it assignment and call it a day. Instead, you must turn their technological enthusiasm into an official business function and both hold them responsible and reward them for it. In order for the assignment to remain a priority, it must have legitimacy, priority, and consequence:
- Legitimacy: That means a real title – not just a project assignment. It’s a small token that can have a big impact on attitude. But most importantly, it should be public in the eyes of fellow employees.
- Priority: Like it or not – this means some current responsibilities will have to be reduced. Time must be carved out. If everything’s hot, nothing is. Engineering work environments often pit program managers fighting over the same resources and often the first thing tossed to the side of the road is anything that might be construed as overhead or “not real work.” In extreme environments, some level of “organizational diplomatic immunity” will be required. Otherwise known as the power to say no. Activities without immediate payoff, like technology advocacy, often get steamrolled by urgent requirements even though success using that technology may later render those requirements irrelevant and return 10x in cost reduction. You can’t let the fire engine mentality – always chasing the latest problems, always reacting – rule the world. The only way to protect against that is to selectively grant organizational diplomatic immunity to your tech advocate.
- Consequence: Requires setting actionable goals, budgets, and schedules. Goals should be realistic and aligned with actual business problems and not abstract concepts –you can’t just set some arbitrary goal to implement 4 technology solutions. This isn’t Civilization V, you know. Structure goals as realistic progressions that are measurable – e.g. reduce ECO cost by X%.
Evolve the Responsibility
Finally, don’t let the responsibility remain as an absolute. Tailor assignments as the business evolves. For a successful technology advocate, give their career a growth path that allows for a transition to a full time position if the work warrants it. Let them continue to do what they’re good at without having to check their six constantly. Similarly, others might not be as comfortable long-term in such a role. Fighting the good fight can wear you down. Grant them an exit if necessary. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently invoke the Peter Principle.
If you haven’t gathered it by now, managing technology requires dedication. It might seem like a costly diversion, but the right focus just might make all the difference in giving your engineering workforce the edge they need to succeed.
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About the author: (Ed Lopategui)
Technology evangelist, entrepreneur, and aerospace engineer specialized in the software tools and technology which enable engineering, design, and product development – PDM, PLM, CAD, CAE, CAM. Any views, opinions, prophecies, and sarcastic remarks are my own and are in no way associated with any current or past employers.
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