Last time, we took a look at what the workplace of the past looked like as we continued our series on the workplace of the future. We wondered what it was like to manage in that environment.

I described a large engineering operation at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft involving some 5,000 engineers. The management of that “empire” was broken rigidly down into sections. Each area had an area supervisor who took care of the administrative functions for his group, which might include members of several different product teams. Each product team of maybe eight engineers had a junior product engineer as its leader. His job was to be sure his group achieved the goals set out. Several of those junior product engineers reported to the senior project manager for that project, such as the JT8D engine program. Those project managers in turn reported to the chief engineer who reported to the vice president of engineering. Quite a hierarchy (and very formal to boot) and probably like many other large engineering operations at that time and very much like the military in structure.

After five years of this, I handed in my resignation. I must have had made some sort of impact because I was called into the chief engineer's office for an interview. His first question was “Why are you leaving us?” The interview ended abruptly when I responded that after five years, this was the first time I had even met my chief engineer. I guess he didn’t like that answer.

From there, I went to a relatively small operation in the industrial heating business where a group of six engineers worked for the Chief, who was also the VP. But even this was very formal and structured. Each engineer had his own area of expertise, and there was little if any cross-communication between us. If you had a problem, you solved it with basically your own resources and what help you could wrangle from the technicians in the lab, which was under the direction of one of the engineers. I guess the Chief enjoyed the competition between us. But productivity improved. By the early '70s, we actually had access to a very large IBM 360 computer programmed in Fortran. The world of the slide rule was rapidly disappearing.

Of course, engineering productivity continued to increase with the IBM personal computer in the mid-'80s, which until the introduction of the first Windows program still required a lot of Basic programming skills. Communications and coordination took an enormous leap in productivity when e-mail and cell phones arrived.

Next we’ll take a look at where it goes from here as seen by the authors of “Wikinomics.”