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Journal: Why heroes in IT make all of our lives worse

Journal by The Beezer
I liked this post a lot, and it got me thinking.

shanec closed by saying this:

So the MBA's of the world have started "laying down the law." Everyone must start work at 8AM, no exceptions (we don't care when you were paged). You must track all of your time spent through out the day (no potty breaks for you!). You must close X amount of tickets a day. You must carry on doing the work of the department, even though we have cut half the positions in an attempt to bolster the management bonuses. You must keep abreast of all current changes in technology, in your personal time. You will be expected to be able to answer about any new technical matter, but you can not spend work time learning about it, unless it was approved in writing first.

System administration in the way that I know it, having grown up in Bell Labs (literally), will go the way of the computer operator. There will be set shifts. There will be a union. There will be no creativity. Everything will be done in an organized fashion, and signed in triplicate.

No exceptions.

I happen to think this is a good thing for IT, long term.

IT where I work (and most places, it seems) are sustained by the activities of heroes. You know the type - pulling down 24 hours straight to straighten out a messed-up install, pulling out their bag of tricks when a deadline changes or an "impossible" task pops up, catching a bug at 2:30am on a Sunday when they hear about an issue at the office, etc. They are the ones that keep the IT department from looking like a bunch of clueless monkeys. I've even played this role a few times myself in the past. I will not say one bad thing about these folks as they've saved my bacon more than once. Yours, too, whether you know it or not.

They're also short-circuiting a needed process - stuff breaking so a proper process can be designed so things work without needing heroic efforts. Heroes cover up flaws in organizations. In other groups where people come in Monday morning and leave Friday afternoon and have for longer than computers have been in businesses, this is not the norm. If there aren't enough salesmen to visit all the customers, they prioritize clients. If your hours aren't in to payroll in time, you don't get paid (or you have to go bother a boss and deal with all of that to get it in).

Frankly, IT frequently exhibits Battered Wife syndrome (with all due apologies to actual victims of abuse). If business groups don't close out properly and reports are messed up, a hero takes the onus to fix it so IT doesn't get initially blamed by someone who doesn't know what's going on. If a business group sends out the wrong data to customers, a hero fixes the file (and makes IT the de facto data police). IT focuses on making sure executives don't get mad and that everything works, whether it does or not. This leads to 80 hour weeks, impossible deadlines, and working 24 hours straight, and running systems that require manual fixes at 2:30 in the morning.

This works for a while because the hero gets a rush from their work (and maybe even some recognition), IT avoids a black eye, and the organization keeps humming along. However, this leads to a lot of heroes doing ad-hoc work that frequently isn't documented, isn't repeatable by more than a handful of folks, and removes the onus on nonperforming areas to address their practices. As these folks move up, on, or out, balls get dropped, or a new hero creates new ad-hoc processes to address these areas.

How do we fix this? RESTORE CONSEQUENCES TO OTHER'S ACTIONS. If you must do something, figure out a way for the offender or their area to prevent or reduce bad performance in the future. Of course, this requires communication and actually - gasp! - talking to other groups about their issues and how to address them. Other benefits to this approach are that other business users will have a better understanding of what IT does, how their actions affect the company as a whole, and IT may learn more about how the rest of the business really works. Scary, huh?

So to shanec's statement, "Everything will be done in an organized fashion...", I say hurray! It's time to get IT out of the hero business.

Brain off-line, please wait.

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