How can companies manage the rapid change in technology?
Be forewarned: this blog doesn't provide all of the answers, but options are suggested.
The Problem with Rapid Change
After I obtained my B.S., my first supervisor was a chemical engineer. He made the rounds every day talking with all of his direct reports. Even though he had graduated probably about 25 years earlier, he could supervise and review my work well. Undoubtedly the curriculum that I took was somewhat different than what he took (e.g. transport phenomena may not have been a separate course for him), but the rate of change in the curriculum had not been rapid.
When I look at the number of ChE Curriculum Options or Blocks today, I am amazed...nano technology, biochemical, bio-medical, biomolecular to name a few. I don't envy the first line supervisor who has ChEs that speak a totally different language. This is likely true for other disciplines as well.
So how does the supervisor manage the new engineering specialties? By manage, the first consideration is quality of work and accuracy. Other considerations are akin to mentoring, such as showing the new employee how to attack problems, organize projects and perform other skills needed for their work. In this post, I will concentrate on the quality issue.
The Company Viewpoint
Peer review of all work is one option: the supervisor can ask for a review by either another employee or a consultant with the same expertise as his employee. The consultant will obviously be needed if there are no others in the company with the proper background. My last employer used consultants on a regular basis as a supplement to their management review.
Another option for the supervisor is to pose simplified tests. This probably works best for computer software, but it may also be a way of checking other work. The error in the CFD program that I discussed in the 7/12/2013 post was demonstrated by simulating the addition of a known amount of heat to a gas stream and observing the (incorrect) temperature rise. In that case, the test was used to confirm an error, but it could have been used to check the program for unknown errors.
Finally, some supervisors have a fantastic capability of asking probing questions even when they have little knowledge of the subject. This is probably the best option, but it takes a very talented supervisor. Since supervisors are selected for many other talents, this talent may be missing.
The company culture with respect to trust, teamwork, and transparency has an impact on the behavior of the employees. If the company's upper management establishes the right culture, then employees will be encouraged to participate fully in peer review.
The organization of personnel can help or hinder peer review. For example, if work is organized by project and the project only needs one nano technologist, then the other members of the project team may have difficulty providing good peer review. In that case, the organization needs to set up some matrix management of the specialties. Matrix "management" may not be the right term. Maybe a matrix communication mechanism is a better idea.
The employee viewpoint
The above comments are given from the viewpoint of the supervisor, and the company. If you are the specialist, what can you do to insure the quality of your work?
You have to put aside any worry or fears about making an error that is discovered. There may be lives and billions of dollars at stake. Discovered errors can be corrected. Everyone makes errors, including people at the top of the technical ladder. The goal is to catch the errors before they have a major, negative impact.
You probably can look at an error many times and still not see it. Or, you make an assumption that may be incorrect. These are reasons that you need to fully disclose your work so others can understand and critique it. You may have to seek out someone for peer review: circulation of a report to the right people doesn't mean they will read it. You have to ask for a critique.
You also should think of test problems before you are asked by your supervisor for the testing. Even if you find some errors, in the end you will have a set of tests without errors that can be presented to demonstrate the attention you paid to work quality. The presentation of those test results may also result in other tests suggested by the reviewers.
Does anyone else have comments regarding ways of managing rapidly changing technology? Yes, a Google search will find thousands of entries on this subject. I'm interested in what you have to say. Also, if you have examples where rapid change in technology presented a problem, please share.