The Age of Hyperspecialization

Read a very interesting article on HBR article on Hyperspecialisation. Here is the link to the   PDF

The pace of new technologies and the resultant social collaboration have ushered us in to the era of hyperspecialisation — “a very different, and not yet widely understood, world of work.”

Here are some important points from the article:

1.Looking at today’s terrifically complex supply chains, one might think we’ve already reached the extremes of specialization. Boeing’s initiative to build the 787 Dreamliner, for example, was hailed as the epitome of subcontracting—and then proved to have gone a bridge too far when the parts failed to come together as seamlessly as envisioned, and delays ensued. A web page listing just the “major” suppliers of the plane’s components contains 379 links. But an aircraft is fundamentally a physical product. Consider how much more finely work can be diced when it produces intangible, knowledge-based goods and the information involved can be transported anywhere in the world nearly instantaneously and at almost no cost.

2. The article discusses in detail on TopCoder a startup works on complex software by splitting up the work with different people across the world.

“TopCoder’s model is intriguing, not least for what it allows its network of almost 300,000 developers from more than 200 countries to do. Because the company aggregates demand for specific tasks, it enables a developer who is particularly good at, say, designing user interfaces to spend the bulk of his or her time doing just that. Indeed, TopCoder developers are becoming increasingly specialized. Some focus on programming specific kinds of software such as small graphics modules. Some have discovered a talent for putting together software components that others have written. And some specialize in fixing bugs in other people’s code.”

“The term “hyperspecialization” is not synonymous with outsourcing work to other companies or distributing it to other places (as in offshoring), although it is facilitated by the same technologies. Rather, it means breaking work previously done by one person into more-specialized pieces done by several people. Whether or not those pieces are outsourced or distributed, their separation often leads to improvements in quality, speed, and cost.”

Some questions:

1. Do hyperspecialists have a place at enterprises, considering the increasing nature of collaborative and specialised work.

2. Is it possible to create a TopCoder model (at least for internal projects in enterprises)?

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