People Factor

I do not know how many times one of my managers or I said something like “Darn employees… Can’t live with them, can’t live without them either…” Almost all issues one faces in management career come from employees, well, very much all the issues are solved by employees as well. Every time when you deal with yet another personnel issue you throw your hands in air asking why it can’t be simple at least once in a while. Well whether you want it or not Murphy rules and if everything appears going well that only means that you are missing something.

For some reason (premonition?) I was thinking about this the Saturday before Thanksgiving week. The thought was so strong and persistent that I decided to sit down with my notebook and take a quick walk through the list of ongoing projects and open issues. The timing, from some twisted standpoint, was perfect – approaching long weekend, many people on vacation traveling, end of month, oncoming deadline for a number of high visibility projects. Nope, neither the list of projects nor the list of open issues, nor any other list I looked over gave me any reason for extra concern. Relived to the point of complacency I went on with my usual weekend chores.

I guess that’s why they call them unexpected issues – because you do not expect them… In this particular case nobody on my team even the most cynical members expected it. By lunch time on Monday there was no traces of complacency left – one of the most critical and traditionally most reliable engineers snapped and left in the middle of the day leaving bunch of unfinished, undocumented work and some technical debris behind. Most of the tasks he was working on were on critical paths of most critical projects. Oh boy, where is that bus contingency or a plan “B” when you need one?

It’s amazing that even in a fairly large organization it only takes one personal failure to bring entire machine to a screeching halt. It is particular amazing to see how much that machine relies on the most unreliable component – a human being.

It takes hundreds of nuts to hold a car together, but it takes only one of them to scatter it all over the highway.
– Evan Esar

Well, in times like that there is not much that your expertise, position, personal abilities or track record can help you with. You have to turn to the best of the best on your team and expect them to do their best.

The clock was ticking; our guy was not coming back and after giving a couple hours to hope that the things will resolve by themselves we switched to emergency task force mode. Connected by Skype chat, Google spreadsheet and occasional conf. calls the team from two coast and several offshore destinations stepped in to discover what was left unfinished, rebuild the systems, reload the data, reconfigure the applications, and so much more.

Yesterday, while I was on a conf. call with the task force I thought about one of the comments on my old post on Pros and Cons of outsourcing. It was one of those rants that I receive pretty regularly. Someone shy enough not to use their real name went on and on telling how stupid I were in even considering offshore –

“You would be stupid to trust them with anything”, “When you need to write a single line of code a writes thousand” and so on.

I looked around proverbial table and saw that at least quarter of the team on the chat was from offshore, and that was only a portion of the team. As a matter of fact more than half of resources on the task force were from two of my offshore partners – one in India and another one Latin America. The guy who worked out on us was born and raised this country, not even a second/third generation immigrant, as local as it gets. Can’t blame the geography for his actions. It’s just good old People Factor. There are good reliable people in every country and every geography. And even the best people can snap. Working with people have no borders and frontiers. And today is one of the days when I feel very thankful to have an offshore we can rely on, not in a corporate sense, but in a sense of people factor.

I am truly thankful to the guys in Chennai, India, Colombo, Sri Lanka and Cochabamba, Bolivia… People who continue to play integral role in keeping the business running, against all odds, 24×7 in the world run by Murphy’s Laws.

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