Crisis Calls: Stereotyping Useless Participants
Brilliant post, I'm sure anyone in IT who has been involved with high priority incidents can recognise all of these stereotypes in the people they work with.
Original Post - Crisis Calls: Stereotyping Useless Participants « PACKETattack
You know the drill. Something’s bad broke within the IT world you inhabit, and people are affected. A few panicky e-mails with a lot of CC’s go back and forth, and the next thing you know, you’re dialing into a conference bridge where everyone and their brother is trying to work out what’s broke and how to fix it. Most of the folks on the call, naturally, have nothing to do with helping resolve the issue, but they add color and interest to the conversation. So who are these folks?
- The blamethrower. I grabbed that term from someone on Twitter, because I find it oh-so appropriate. This is the person who wants to make very sure that whatever’s broken, it wasn’t their fault. Someone didn’t follow procedure. Someone didn’t submit a change control. The vendor didn’t keep a promise. The circumstance was unforeseeable. A code release had unintended consequences. Someone didn’t document a procedure properly. The cable wasn’t labeled. Work was done without their approval. Whatever the excuse, you can bet the blamethrower will keep firing full-blast until they are absolved of responsibility.
- The fearmonger. This is the person who won’t agree to do the thing that will fix the problem, because they are scared it will make the problem worse…and then they’ll get blamed. So they’ll keep throwing out the “what if” scenarios and cautionary tales, keeping the problem unresolved due to their inability to pull the trigger.
- The liason. Every 10-15 minutes, this senior technical manager will come off mute and ask for an update, even though they’ve been listening to the call the entire time. They’ll remind everyone else on the call that they need to inform executive management of the current status. In this way, they demonstrate how important they are because they talk to mighty executives, while at the same time proving their uselessness since they’ve been listening to the call but can’t articulate a status without someone else giving them the words. Small words work best.
- The product manager. This is the toddler of the group. He has no idea about anything technical, at least not any more, and is just concerned that his pet product isn’t working right. He’s confused, a little scared, and needs a hug. All he wants to know is that it’s going to be all right, because he can’t cope with all the incoming calls.
- The statistician. This genius will remind everyone in measurable quantities the amount of loss the company is experiencing as a result of the problem. Most frequent measurements are in terms of “down-time”, “man-hours” or “lost revenue”. Most of these statistics are a load of dingo’s kidneys, but the hoped-for effect is to put pressure on folks to get the issue resolved. Because, by golly, we can’t just have manhours and dollars lost all willy-nilly!
- The national account manager. This person is the face of your company to some marquis account, and cares more about looking good to them than helping defuse the situation. They say things like, “You know Mark over at Acme Corp is really upset about this. He’s threatening to take their business elsewhere unless we fix it RIGHT NOW. What should I tell him?” Don’t tell him what you’re thinking you should tell him. You’ll just get hauled into HR. Again.
- The battle-scarred soldier. This crusty goner will share tales from back in the day about some obscure issue they resolved with a soldering iron and alchemy to fix equipment the company retired two decades ago. He’ll try to make it relevant; you’ll listen to what he says and wait for the point. Don’t hold your breath.
- The spaghetti chucker. This one throws everything at the wall to see what sticks. With no discernible logic, this person will suggest wild, irrational changes to completely unrelated things in the hopes that motion, however frantic, will be perceived as positive action on the part of management. This individual is running scared and doesn’t really understand how anything works, but hates not feeling useful since he spends most of his time writing e-mails proclaiming his usefulness to his superiors. With the pressure on, he reacts in the only way he knows how – by spouting off about things he heard the guys who do the real work talk about.
- The outsourcer. Calling someone else seems like the best approach to this person. They want to bring in a vendor, a contractor, someone. Anyone. Anyone who’s not them. Outsourcing the problem takes the pressure off to solve the problem, and also allows for a scapegoat later on if things don’t go well. It also secretly exposes their conviction that everyone they work with is a moron.
- The backout. The first solution this person offers to fix the problem is to back out all previous changes that might have been made that day. They do no problem analysis and consider no facts. Backing out is the first, last, and only solution they deem appropriate. Even when dismissed as an invalid approach to resolving the issue, this person will keep raising “backout” as the best way to go.
- The headbanger. This person will butt heads with anyone else on the call, as a way to demonstrate their managerial superiority. Headbangers are more likely to emerge if they have peers of similar rank on the call. They will say things like, “No one makes any change unless I approve it.” They try to drive all conversation through them, and generally become a bottleneck, except in the rare case where they actually know what they are doing.
Don’t be any of those types. Be the hero. Be the engineer that thinks calmly through the problem, uses rational thinking, and progresses logically to the solution. You might have to go it alone. You might have to step away from the noise, gather some of your own information, and then find that one fact everyone else is overlooking that’s the key to solving the problem. Don’t be arrogant, and don’t be presumptuous. Don’t make changes above your level of authority. But get away from the people that aren’t helping, and find the answer.