The Key Man and Making Things Work

A couple of things have come to my attention recently.  Firstly the flawed concept that having a Key Man (or Woman) is a risk to your organisation.  Secondly that as IT people we don’t spend enough time just getting stuff working.

Hierarchies tend to want to avoid globbing knowledge in one place – they want people to share, for the assets to be equal and for everyone to have enough time to go on holiday.  No really, they do.  They want bums on seats, they want square pegs and square holes – everyone wants an easy life and for everything to be equitable.  This is because those in power are scared of vesting too much trust in one person and therefore keeping a modicom of control without having to actually learn anything or do anything themselves.  They want to trust their staff and the best way of doing this is to ensure they keep talking to each other.  Make sense doesn’t it?

So a few years ago the buzzphrase ‘key man risk‘ came about and suddenly we were all running about and trying not to learn too much, or making sure we spend enough time doing knowledge transfer so that no single person holds all the cards.

However, organisations are only as good as the individuals that are involved in them and people working in organisations are inherently lazy and inflexible.  That’s not to say they don’t do a good job but people will always have a tendency to make their life as easy as possible despite what is mandated as being good for the organisation.  This is as true for the boss as it is for the shop floor worker.  Everyone makes all the right noises but when it comes to actually addressing problems and making tough decisions to mitigate these risks everyone would much rather not make them and just leave things the way they are because it actually makes life harder to make these changes.  To reroute information or processes takes effort.

Hence all organisations will continue to suffer key man risk – it’s pretty much unavoidable.  So if it’s unavoidable is it actually a desirable situation?  After all – you have someone who can do the job, shouldn’t you be celebrating this rather than trying to obviate it?

Along with organisations that just work (any old way) don’t we want solutions that Just Work too don’t we?  So this takes us to my second thought – rather than choosing and implementing different software paradigms or methodologies to help us manage complexity, growth and the future what happened to just getting things done.  Just tackling the actual problem rather than planning our way around it.

This second thought is less well defined – it’s new and it’s raw.  I will call it Solution Oriented Programming and I will come back to this shortly.   Essentially there’s a link here between key people and getting things done – you take risks to make progress – and those risks may only be ones that you’re already carrying.

Interesting to read also on Slashdot about the possibilities of getting back to the hacker culture.  Celebrating the fact that there are people around who can actually improve processes for you very very quickly.    So indeed if you did want to eliminate that key man risk, if you did want to just get things done – perhaps you should spend a little time just listening to your local friendly neighbourhood hacker about what can be done and then act on some of those ideas?

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