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Problems - Look Towards Your Best People As The Root CauseHowever, it’s not always the bad guys, doing bad things that cause data breaches. It’s often your best employees making silly mistakes. Negligence is still the leading cause of data breaches at 41%. Software Development Times, Cloud Computing.

This is the challenge in companies that only reward and promote “the best people”  — or at least claim to. When something goes wrong, it is inevitably by one of our best people. This always strikes folks as not quite right. Our best people are what makes things go right they assert! Agreed. But if we’ve really optimized the organization and enabled our folks to do their best, then when things go wrong, and they will, it is our best folks who are at the center of what went wrong.

What is too often the real problem is when things do go wrong it looks like our “best” people are really just the best at pointing out what went wrong and who did it. And it is never them that did it.

Too many organizations, struggling to improve and looking for ways to get better, give in to these “I’m pointing out what went wrong, so I know how to make it go right” people. We then either promote them (to solve our problems) or otherwise give them control over significant resources. The argument is that these folks must be our best people because they sure seem to know where and who the problem is. This, in my experience, is almost always a mistake.

A new software engineering manager had taken charge of our premier project, at least on the engineering side. Things were not going well. One of his “fixes” was to shut down direct communications between the engineering teams and our overall project management.  His logic was to control the communications and ensure only the right status was being communicated to project management.

Engineering was behind schedule and missing their milestones. Before communications were shut down, the across the board schedule slips demonstrated that the engineering department had grossly underestimated the time to do the project. In an effort to explain why this was happening, the new engineering manager insisted it was because his team didn’t have sufficient hardware prototypes to make progress on developing the software. The hardware team was in fact late on their deliveries of sufficient (and costly) prototypes and so development was not making progress.

Prototypes were always in short supply and the project team controlled their distribution. Many teams needed these limited resources and so they were handed out in a very controlled manner. The engineering manager said their limited supply was the reason for being behind.

Compare this example with “Its The Schedule, Stupid”

Senior management, in an effort to try and fix things, directed project management to turn over all the existing and future prototypes to the engineering manager. All of them. This will solve the problem. He is one of our best people. Go do it. Now.

Do you think that worked? No. Nothing changed. The schedules continued to slip out. The pattern of slips didn’t change. The only real change was that some non-engineering teams had no prototypes and could hardly make any progress. Instead of getting them from project management, they had to go beg software engineering management for hardware. Engineering management then doled them out as they saw fit (whatever was to software’s advantage) and not based upon overall project needs and milestones.

Software engineering had put their “best” engineering manager in charge of their part of the effort. Evidence that he was the best was because he could loudly point out how other teams were the reason why engineering teams were not doing well. Senior management had further given significant control of non-software resources to the engineering manager in reaction to their claim that hardware was the real problem. It made no difference, except to reduce project management control over resources.

When things go wrong, our “best” people are usually at the center of it. That only makes sense because we put them at the center of things. When we notice that our best people are not making a difference, even when we give them everything they want, we know we have a problem with our notion of our best people.

The problem is probably not with those people, per se, but with the way we pick and assign the “best.” If we do it based upon “who points the finger and yells the loudest” then we are probably not finding our best people. Instead, we are finding those who are best at assigning blame to others as opposed to actually being able to do a good job. Rather, we need to look beyond our normal definition of best and brightest and take chances with those who may not fit the classic mold.

For successful ways to do this, see Use The “B” Team

Are your “best” people making a difference or are they at the center of every major problem and pointing fingers elsewhere?

Thank you for sharing!

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