It’s truly counterintuitive, but a lot of issues in business are made much worse by trying harder to fix them.
Business problems are often disguised as something else. Organizational health problems are disguised as financial negligence. Management dysfunction masquerades as employee disengagement. And my favorite, because it’s my own area of competence, is IT’s lack of ability to deliver the required functionality on time and under budget—that’s organizational communications problems in disguise.
Despite widespread perceptions, most managers are neither unaware of problems nor ignoring them. The issue I’ve most often observed is that the real issue is obscured from managers, and their efforts to improve the problems are actually making them worse, not better.
IT almost always has communications choke-points that can be significantly improved. They masquerade as troublesome people, troublesome systems, bad processes, and so on. But they’re really communications bottlenecks.
Because that’s not clearly understood, managers will try to confront the apparent (but wrong) issue directly with “better management.” The area I see the most often, from my vantage point as founder of a database monitoring company, is problems with database performance and downtime. The usual response to this is to try to “manage the databases better.” What form does that take?
- A dedicated DBA team. Only the DBAs have access to the databases’ most important and sensitive controls and functions.
- Safeguards around the database to prevent the problems that have happened in the past. (Someone released a bad query that brought things down? Institute release policies.)
- Restricted access and team specialization usually leads to slower release velocity, which makes managers feel safer, but as per the link in point #2, makes things worse.
Managers now feel they are “controlling” things better. Lack of control, they feel, is causing chaos.
It’s not. It’s making things much, much worse. It’s slowing down release cycles, incenting teams to work in large batches, insulating and isolating people from being able to help and contribute where they have expertise, lengthening feedback cycles, causing increased rework, turning people into critical bottlenecks for large teams who depend on them, and impacting work/life balance and engagement.
If these sound like bold, unsubstantiated statements, perhaps you would be interested in reading The Goal or The Phoenix Project. Consider whether your organization might resemble some of the dysfunctions in these “devops classics.”
How can you fight this?
Awareness is the first step. Again, if you haven’t read one of those books, I think they’re well worth everyone’s time.
The next step is to work counter to your intuitions. Once you’ve developed a deep sense of what the true underlying challenges are, you can take steps to loosen up the organizational scar tissue that’s accreted around your vital systems and teams.
It sounds easy because it’s simple, but it’s hard to execute nevertheless, in part because you’ll have to get everyone else on board… and that means you’re going to have to help them see past their own intuition, too.
If you do, though, you can turn a negative downward spiral of gridlock and dysfunction into a positive one of shortening feedback and delivery cycles, reduced communications overhead, and above all moving faster, safer, and with better quality.
Originally published at Why “Better” Management Can Be A Negative Spiral.