Systems & Heroes

chakky's picture

"With Great Power comes Great Responsibility" ---Spiderman

When you think back to our childhood, our whole lives have revolved around superheroes. Name it spiderman, superman, batman, catwoman, Incredible Hulk. Fairytales,legends,the Religious Manuscripts all speak of just one thing, supernatural powers; super human efforts. To say it simplified, we have always been from our childhood, brought up on a regular diet of heroics through movies, cartoons, books etc.Thus we always wish for rather believe in miracles. We only admire the unbelievable happenings and never appreciate everyday things.

Who is a hero?
"a man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength"

In Web hosting companies today, hosting providers run for the cheapest available support. We see a lot of fly by night support companies. They come up due to their belief in their individual abilities, make some quick money that makes them feel invincible. The client is impressed by the individual heroics at the lowest cost and life is very smooth.

Then the day comes, the host becomes bigger, the support requirements grow beyond what he can handle. What does the hero do, he hires a few more heroic people, who can shine with their talent as individuals. But then the hero realises, everyday passing by is a miracle!

By a miracle or grace of God,
a) The hero doesn't fall ill
b) The servers do not simply conk out.
c) Bugs do not seem to be exploited by hackers who are busy catching bigger fish like Bill Gates.
d) Hero gets a group of people who are dedicated and who work with flexibility of 12-16 hours with no requirement of holidays.
e) As soon as they call for recruitment people are waiting in queue to come in.
f) Hero's Internet connection, systems,electricity does not fail.
g) Whatever mistakes the others in the team do, the hero can cover up.
h) Luckily technological advancement is lower, so hero does not need to spend time on re- training.
i) There is always google if no one can come up with a solution.

Just one of these things start going wrong, or one every other month, the client loses trust on the hero. The hero loses his nerve and has to do more heroics to get everyday pass by. The day then comes, the client leaves all disillusioned. Thus ended the fairy tale or rather reality struck in.
Well the story does not end here. Its time for a post mortem.

Where did it all fail?

If you look at it heroism, is for the unprepared. You can respect the heroics of the firefighters who gave up their lives for saving hundreds of people during 9/11. But would you respect a hero whose primary job should have been to realise that his skills would improve the service of the client and hence he would need to make arrangements to be able to handle this?

Is it not then true that the failure was due to either failure to prepare for the expected or the fact that he wanted to stand out as exceptional rather than thinking of the customer's growth?

As the number of people in a company grow, heroes used to working as individuals create chaos. They always have their own whims and fancies that they tend to be difficult to manage. True heroes are the ones who realise that their exceptional, see the future, understand the concept that to go to the next level, its not their talent alone but the collective effort of a team that is needed.

Imagine the stage before helpdesks came in. Any issue that someone had, came in collectively. It was either there was an issue, or there was none. Keeping proof, having an idea where the errors came from etc, none of them was there. Records of how earlier issues were solved were not available. When the helpdesks came in, it was just the solution everyone looked for. With this they could measure the overall problems that their clients felt and issues were solved faster. Major problems with the server was understood and there was a tracking of how much work the technical support guy does for the company. Client appreciates the work being done. The tech realises how much he contributes and performs accordingly.

In such way, bringing in systems helps ensure that there is a more equitable quality. A system is only always as good as the person enforcing it. If the person slacks or reaches the stage where he is overwhelmed, the system can fail and the result would be poor quality. A system can be enforced in three ways,
a) By force : This method is the easiest to do as it's a do or die situation. But like the saying goes, "people don't quit companies, they quit their bosses". So that would be the net result.
b) By perks : Offer rewards in lieu of implementation. This method is great but its always shortlived as sooner or later, it runs out of steam.
c) By responsibility : Give a person a vision, make it his responsibility, let him share the decision making. Result is the hero sees the flaws better in others and can work towards perfect systems.

The third method is the best as it harnesses the skills of the heroic tech, utilises the systems that ensure redundancy and always helps in preventing chaos with the growth of the company. Passion with responsibility ensures that it runs forever.

Systems have the following benefits:
a) It takes into account the bigger picture while doing things.
b) It ensures nothing gets missed.
c) It gives everyone involved a clear cut idea where they stand, what all remains to do.
d) There is always a beginning and a end. The end doesn't mean its over, but it means, the stage is set for the next continual improvement.

Companies who wanted to suceed, saw the benefits of systems and its inevitability. it's the only reason why they proceed to move on to certifications like ISO, CMM, Six Sigma etc. They can let their clients know that the systems they have are standardised and something used all over the world. It results in trust and understanding.

So does a system kill a hero?

Never, the system only ensures that a hero however good he may be is reined in and not allowed to run out of steam. Like my boss would always say "Kill the spirit before it dies". A hero should show his true colors only when a unexpected crisis comes. He then exemplifies why he is better than most others. Performance Evaluation Systems are a in thing today, only because heroes have that extra stamina and it will be displayed in today's systemized world, only if there is a reason. Unlike olden days when idealism was the only fuel heroes needed!

" I long to accomplish a great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker." --Helen Keller

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