A double-edged sword
Over the past couple of years I have done a lot of speaking at various ITSM events about the issue of the IT Superhero.
I have come to understand that this knight in shining armor carries somewhat of a double-edged sword. I still think that reliance on heroes – our single points of failure in a human sense – is essentially a very poor way of managing any IT support organization. But recent assignments have shown me that, without such heroes some businesses would have suffered catastrophic failure and died a very long time ago.
Driving without insurance
I am sure that the people involved in these organizations would never dream of driving a car without insurance or neglecting to pay for comprehensive cover on the homes they live in. But they still fail to see that they are driving multi-million dollar business enterprises without the benefit of insurance against critical failures caused by the all-important human factor.
What I have seen recently is the situation where the hero never set out to take on this role, and they have no desire to ride to the rescue. The problem is that they know that if they don’t, the business and its customers will suffer, so they continue to play the role of the hero out of a feeling of moral obligation.
A lack of process has caused a perceived lack of resource and time, although if there were repeatable and manageable processes, it is more than likely that the resources would be perfectly adequate.
A never-ending circle
This is a chicken and egg situation, they need to have processes so that they can free up resources and give them time and budget for training and education. But they need to have some freed up resources to create the processes to achieve this. It is a vicious circle, the busier they get, the less time they have to work on process; the less process they have the busier they get.
Somebody needs to stand up and yell “STOP!”
In this situation the heroes do not enjoy being heroes, they just want to do their jobs and do them well, but they are being forced to constantly ride to the rescue and fix issues that would not have happened if there were a semblance of good practice process in place.
All too common!
Does this sound like it should be a rare occurrence? Surely workplaces like this vanished in the eighties when we started talking about, and promoting, best practice in IT Service Management (ITSM).
Sadly, this is not an unusual scenario; reliance on heroes is standard practice in many organizations, small and large. Many of you reading this are possibly living in a lovely little bubble where proficient ITSM is a way of life. Actually the mere fact that you are reading this probably means that you are not busy firefighting! Spare a thought for the larger proportion of IT workers who still live in medieval times where they must rely on those knights in shining armor to slay the dragons.
I would love to say that I have a simple cure for this hero infestation, but I realize that it just isn’t that simple. If we remove the heroes from many organizations the end result will not be pretty and the downstream effect is likely to be catastrophic.
Building good practice in the area of knowledge sharing is the only thing that will make a difference, in both the short and long term. But there still remains the problem that there is no time to build a knowledge management capability when you are flat out fighting fires.
Anyone have an answer?
I would love to hear from anyone who has successfully resolved a hero issue in the face of limited resources. Let us know how you did it; your experience may help an army of heroes out in the IT world who are ready to retire from fighting dragons.