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5 Anti-Patterns to IT Collaboration: Data Will Save You

Level 12

KarenLegos.png

As promised in my previous post on Better IT, in this series I will be talking about collaboration. Today I'm sharing with you anti-patterns in collaboration.

Anti-pattern - Things you shouldn't be doing because they get in the way of success in your work, or your organization's efforts.  Antonym of "pattern."

In my troubled project turnaround work, when I start to talk about collaboration, I usually get many eye rolls. People think we're going to start doing team-building exercises, install an arcade game, and initiate hourly group hugs. (Not that these would be so bad.)  But most collaboration missteps I see are the result of anti-patterns that show up in how teams work. So in this post, let's look at the not-so-great-things that will get your team and your organization into trouble.

IT admins who don't know who is responsible for what, or can't find them

This is often the case in geo-diverse teams, spread over several time zones, and teams with a high staff turnover. Their processes (their "pattern") is to go on a "responsibility safari" to find the person and their contact information for a resource. On one project, it took me almost a month to find the person, who lived on another continent, who was responsible for the new networks we were going to deploy to our retail locations. By the time I found him, he was planning on moving to another company within a week. Having to hunt down people first, then their tools, then their data, is both costly and time-consuming, which delays one's ability to resolve issues. Having to find people before you find data is not the right way to manage.

IT admins who collect duplicate data about resources and their metrics, often in difficult to integrate formats and units of measure

This is almost always the result of using a hodgepodge of tools across teams, many of which are duplicate tools because one person has a preference of toolsets. This duplication of tools leads to duplication of data.  And many of these tools keep their data locked in, with no way to share that data with other tools. This duplication of data and effort is a huge waste of time and money for everyone. The cost of incompatible tool sets producing data in incompatible formats and levels of granularity is large and often not measured. It slows down access to data and the sharing of data across resource types.

IT pros who want to keep their data "private" 

This dysfunction is one my friend Len Silverston calls "data mine-ing," keeping data to yourself for personal use only. This is derived from the fact that data is indeed power. Keeping information about the status of the resources you manage gives you control of the messaging about those systems. This is a terrible thing for collaboration.

Data mine-ing - Acting in a manner that says, "This data is mine."

- Len Silverston

Agile blocking is horrible

A famous Agilista wants people to report false statuses, pretend to do work, tell teams that "all is good" so he can keep doing what he is doing without interruption. He also advocates for sharing incorrect data and data that makes it look like other teams are to blame. I refuse to link to this practice, but if you have decent search skills, you can find it. Teams that practice blocking are usually in the worst shape possible, and also build systems that are literally designed to fail and send their CEO to jail.  It's that bad. Of all these anti-patterns, this is the most dangerous and selfish.

IT admins who use a person-focused process

We should ensure that all of our work is personable. And collaborative. But "person-focused" here means "sharing only via personal intervention." When I ask them how they solve a problem, they often answer with, "I just walk over to the guy who does it and ask them to fix it." This is seen as Agile, because it's reactionary, and needs no documentation or planning. It does not scale on real-life projects. It is the exact opposite of efficiency. "Just walking over" is an interruption to someone else who may not even manage one of the actual resources related to the issue. Also, she might not even work in the same building or country.  Finally, these types of data-less visits increases the us-versus-them mentality that negatively impacts the collaboration success. Sharing data about an instance is just that: data. It's the status of a set a resources. We can blame a dead router without having to blame a person. Being able to focus on the facts allows us to depersonalize the blame game.

Data will save you

These anti-patterns don't just increase costs, decrease team function, increase risk, and decrease organizational confidence, they also lead to employee dissatisfaction and morale. That leads to higher turnover (see above) and more pressure on good employees. Having the right data, at the right time, in the right format, will allow you to get to the root cause of issues, and better collaborate with others faster, cheaper, and easier.  Also, it will let you enjoy your 3:00 ams better.

Are there other anti-patterns related to collaboration that you've seen when you've tried to motivate cross-team collaboration?  Share one in the comments if you do.

23 Comments
tallyrich
Level 15

We have just recently been tasked with identifying the "owners" of all of the applications that we support (somewhere above 400).

This is great information to consider. I'm finding more and more that the human element is critical in all aspects of IT.

Who is responsible?

How does the team relate to each other?

How easy is it to social engineer?

Jfrazier
Level 18

duplicate data across multiple tools in different formats...and it all referred to differently.

Therefore trying to pull it all together in a meaningful way takes much time and effort and may prove to be not manageable or maintainable...

This brings back one of my favorite terms.  "Normalized data", I have seen an entire multi-million software project that ran over 1 year become shelfware because data wasn't normalized across many different data sources. There was no way to correlate things or change how things were referenced in order to overcome this obstacle...

Great writeup datachick​ !

rschroeder
Level 21

Face it:  Life is easier, better, and more efficient if you use Solarwinds products and tie them all into each other.  Break down the silo walls, get everyone trained and familiar with Orion.

I'm lobbying to have a Systems Monitoring position created in my organization--I'm first in line.

datachick
Level 12

Yes, the human element is important. Which is why I'm a firm believer in moving as much of the "a computer can do it better" to automation and leaving us with the tasks that can benefit more from human analysis and thoughts.

datachick
Level 12

Glad you liked it. 

datachick
Level 12

I have a feeling your comment will be enjoyed by many.

vinay.by
Level 16

Nice article datachick

shuckyshark
Level 13

Solarwinds should be a standard course in all IT Networking programs in Colleges and Universities...

mtgilmore1
Level 13

My take has always been "this data is mine"..... 

zero_cool
Level 10

IT ADMINS WHO, OR CAN'T FIND THEM DON'T KNOW WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT

Not only is it hard to find responsible parties, sometimes they flat out HIDE from systems managers to avoid doing the work they are responsible for.

rschroeder
Level 21

I'm not quite able to imagine your original intent for your first sentence, zero cool​.  What idea were you trying to highlight?

datachick
Level 12

Those are fightin' words.

jkump
Level 15

These are things that I have observed over my career but never really thought about.  Thanks for such a concise listing.  Thought provoking as we continue to build teams to protect our environments.  Complexity of the environment will certainly continue to grow.  Good stuff!!!

datachick
Level 12

I'm glad it helped.  Do you have ideas about other anti-patterns?

d09h
Level 16

I've handled a data mine-ing coworker by shining a bright light on his actions.  Dropping the guy's name in calls and emails with management (and management's management).  While I can't compel a change in the behavior directly, a mutual supervisor somewhere certainly can.  If given the choice between stalling out due to lack of information and being perceived as ineffective or naming the impediment to progress, name the data mine-r.  Chances are good that others have run into the same layer 8 challenge. And if the guy really has a leg to stand on, then those who negotiated contracts can set the record straight.

designerfx
Level 16

This is indeed an issue I've been working on with my current org, where they actually created a segregation of duties *preventing* the silo walls from being broken down. That before we even get to significant data ownership issues. I think it's partially a maturity of the org, but silos aren't going to get anyone anywhere.

designerfx
Level 16

I think this is more like "monitoring as a concept" (which solarwinds helpfully has videos of). The catch is that even if you try to teach that to people, it doesn't mean they'll understand what it means or are willing to spend the time to understand. It's funny because the whole idea of good monitoring is to save time/spend less time/be more efficient, yet people don't want to spend the tiniest amount to get to that point.

bobmarley
Level 15

Don't forget the 'Black Hole' department. Where lots of money, data, resources, etc. goes in and nothing ever comes out!

I have seen this come under many names over the years....

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datachick
Level 12

Ah, right. 

And thanks for teasing me with space pics!

datachick
Level 12

Another tactic is to do your best to publish data you can find about that guy or gal's stuff.  They will immediately see the loss of power and start sharing bits of data.

ecklerwr1
Level 19

I love the lego people picture!

byrona
Level 21

My biggest challenge is folks that have decided they don't want to use the tools that the rest of us use so they bring in their own tools creating sprawl, silos, data inconsistencies and a supportability issue since nobody else knows or can support their tools.

shuckyshark
Level 13

that's when I bring my 2x4 out and start thwacking people

About the Author
Data Evangelist Sr. Project Manager and Architect at InfoAdvisors. I'm a consultant, frequent speaker, trainer, blogger. I love all things data. I'm an Microsoft MVP. I work with all kinds of databases in the relational and post-relational world. I'm a NASA 2016 Datanaut! I want you to love your data, too.