Driving Heroes out of the Workplace

We’ve all been there. Someone in your team’s getting the “Hero of the Month” award for resolving a Priority 1 issue that was preventing a large chunk of the business from working and you’re kind of pleased, but also kind of not because we should never be there in the first place. IT should not be a place where Heroes are needed, but there’s an awful lot of people in IT who like to be heroes!

Heroes are needed when systems fail unexpectedly, when things go wrong or when a deadline is too short and somehow, someone needs to do something heroic in order to sort things out, resolve the issue or meet the deadline.

Do we want to run a technology environment where Heroes are needed on a semi-regular basis? I hope not. It’s just too much stress and angst! In fact, I’ll go as far to say that we shouldn’t even need an on-call service let alone a bunch of heroes in the team.

Operationally, technology needs to be really boring. It really needs to disappear into the woodwork and never be seen again. I’ve always told IT Operations teams that have worked for me that my ideal would be for them to make themselves redundant and that the Helpdesk sit there playing solitaire all day long with nary a call between them. It’s not always been a popular opinion, but they get my point!

Driving Heroes out of the workplace should be a priority for any CIO or CTO. Their very presence means the technology landscape isn’t good enough to just operate, all the time, every day, without fail. If you need a Hero or two in the team, then that’s not the hero’s fault; it’s ours. Here’s what I do to drive out Heroes from the business.

🔎 Find and Remove Single Points of Failure: A rigorous review of all systems used by the business that unearths all the single points of failure needs to be a priority. Then resolving those single points of failure or at least minimising them in a cost-effective manner is the next step. If it’s too expensive to remove the single point of failure, at least make sure that the chances of it failing outside of normal working hours is as low as it possibly can be.

🗑️ Remove Bespoke Systems: Anything specifically written for the business is going to drive up the number of times a hero’s needed to resolve problems. Not only that, but it will also need a very specific hero who knows your bespoke system and will probably be costing you an arm and leg because you can’t even get one easily off the sub’s bench! Where at all possible encourage the business to use off the shelf, shrink wrapped products and change the business processes to match those off the shelf systems. If there’s a demand for customisation, urge them to think again, then think again and then help them abandon the idea.

🧰 Drive out Technical Debt: Technical debt is about a build up of work in systems that is required to make them properly fit for purpose. This happens when someone quickly builds something to resolve a priority requirement and then leaves it working like that rather than re-doing it properly. It takes time and effort but finding and driving out technical debt will mean your company’s technology is far more stable and needs fewer heroes.

🛡️ Decent Security: Many times a hero is needed when there’s some form of cyber security issue. Hero requirements can be minimised by implementing decent security measures across the technology estate and making sure everyone is fully trained with regular refreshers. Training is the best bang for your buck here, but decent security comes a close second.

💡 Learn from the Past: No-one’s perfect, there will still be problems that crop up that perhaps occasionally need a hero. So often though, once the problem is gone and the hero’s been thumped on the back, we move on, and nothing’s done to find out what caused the problem in the first place. We need to consciously review anything that needed a hero and work out what went wrong and why it went wrong and make sure it never happens again.

I appreciate this is a bit of a pipedream, but a no-hero policy should at least drive the right behaviour in the team and underpin the technology strategy. If it doesn’t then I guess your favourite singer is Bonnie Tyler and her song “Holding out for a Hero”!

Found this useful? Try my other recent articles: Developing Your Direct Reports and Breaking the Unattainable Triangle.

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