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Better Together - Working Together in Silo Organizations

cxi
Level 12

In my last post WHEN BEING AN EXPERT ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH: MASTER OF ALL TRADES, JACK OF NONE, you all shared some great insight on how you were able to be find ways to be successful as individual SMEs and contributors, and how you could navigate the landscape of an organization.  

This week, I’d like to talk about silo organizations and how we’ve found ways to work better together. (You can share your stories, as well!)

This is the first thing I imagine when I hear that an organization is silo-ed off:

oldsilos.jpg

The boundaries are clearly defined, the foundation is well set, it’s very aged and well established. It doesn’t mean any of it is particularly good or bad, but it certainly shows the test of time. Navigating in that landscape requires more than tackling a delicate balance of ego and seniority.

Once upon a time, we had a very delicate situation we were trying to tackle. This may sound simple and straightforward, but needless to say, it’ll all make sense on how things were far from easy. We were faced with deploying a syslog server. Things literally do NOT get any easier than that! When I first found out about this (security) initiative, I was told that this was a "work in progress" for over two years, and that no syslog servers had been deployed, yet. Wait. Two years? Syslog server. None deployed?! This can’t be that difficult, can it? Welcome to the silo-ed organization, right?

On its surface, it sounds so simple, yet as we started to peel back the onion:

Security needed syslog servers deployed.

The storage team would need to provision the capacity for these servers.

The virtualization team would need to deploy the servers.

The networking team would need to provide IP addresses, and the appropriate VLANs, and advertise the VLANs as appropriate if they did not exist.

The virtualization team would then need to configure those VLANs in their networking stack for use.

Once all that was accomplished, the networking and security teams would need to work together to configure devices to send syslog data to these servers.

All that is straightforward, and easy to do when everyone works together! The disconnected, non-communicating silos prevented that from happening for years because everyone felt everyone else was responsible for every action and it’s a lot easier to not do things than to work together!

Strangely, what probably helped drive this success the most was less the clear separation of silo-by-silo boundary and more the responsibility taken by project managing this as a single project. When things are done within a silo, they’re often done in a bubble and begin and end without notifying others outside of that bubble. It makes sense, like when driving a car we’re all driving on the same road together and our actions may influence each other’s (lane changes, signal changes, and the like), but what music I’m listening to in my car has no influence on any other car.  

So, while we all have our own interdependencies that exist within our silos, when we’re working together ACROSS silos on a shared objective, we can be successful together as long as we recognize the big picture.   Whether we recognize that individually, or we do collectively with some dictated charter, we can still be successful. When I started this piece, I was more focused on the effects and influence we can make as individuals within our silos, and the interaction and interoperability with others within silos. But I came to realize that when we each individually manage our responsibilities within a “project,” we become better together. That said, I'm not implying that formal project management is required for any or all multi-silo interactions. It really comes down to accepting responsibility as individuals, and working together on something larger than ourselves and our organization, not just seeing our actions as a transaction with no effect on the bigger whole.

Then again, I could be crazy and this story may not resonate with any of you.   

Share your input on what you’ve found helps you work better together, whether it be inter-silo, intra-silo, farming silos, you name it!

41 Comments
rharland2012
Level 15

I think you hit the nail on the head - project management. Every bad outcome I've been involved in was due to a lack of communication, task flow and handoff, and resource constraints. Every good outcome between siloed teams I've seen is all about a competent PM.

To me, part of what a good PM can bring to the table is an ability to enlighten all contributors on what the 'big picture' really is.

So far, I'm not sure what's worse - a bad PM or no PM at all. At least with a bad PM, you may have a chance to have a sidebar with the project sponsor. With no PM....well....you get what you give, I guess.

rschroeder
Level 21

Given all parts are required to complete the puzzle, it's unfortunate if:

  • Some of the parts are insecure, and wish to retain their border integrity and pretend they are their own fief . . .
  • Other parts are worried that allowing views into their section of the puzzle may reveal they aren't following best practices, or don't understand why they're doing things a certain way . . .
  • Certain parts don't want other parts asking embarrassing questions . . .
  • The parts don't all trust each other to make everything fit together more quickly and accurately . . .
  • Parts worry they could be eliminated or replaced if others analyze the way they fit into the puzzle and find other/better ways to make the picture complete . . .

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shuckyshark
Level 13

the tough part is when there's no opening at all in one of the silos...

cxi
Level 12

Openings such as to foster good communication and success to working together?

Or are we on the grain analogy?

ecklerwr1
Level 19

With everything agile and stuff now... some of this kind of way of working is on it's way out I think.  Good management not allowing things like this to continue is pretty important.  They have to change the whole culture and it won't happen overnight.

cxi
Level 12

Code development can be Agile, some teams and projects can be Agile, but organizations are often (and the larger they are) still fairly siloed.

That and consider, the moment you're not working only within one company or organization and things are inter-organizational.

One analogy that could be made would be a home improvement project (Project management isn't only for IT, right?)

Whether you hire a General Contractor or you act as the GC, you'll need to manage your electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and any code enforcement, getting permits, etc.   While we can see all parties as 'construction' they all live in their own paths, do their own thing and nary do they overlap, yet their actions can directly impact each other significantly.

And the same can be said of even a deeply Agile organization.   Outside WAN provider, Cabling guy, Electricians; etc. Even if you're leveraging full virtualization or Cloud to control your assets, you'll still need to interact with directly or indirectly the carrier, your application people, the Ops part of the DevOps argument and more so.   Even when we're solely isolated into one large siloed bubble, we're still interfacing and interconnecting with others unless we're solely in a Sandbox which rarely is the case.

ecklerwr1
Level 19

Ironically many of us do have multiple networks and even standalone networks which exist not only in a sandbox but also are air gapped from the entire world.  The key you stated was making sure there is interfacing between groups going on.  This may need to be forced a little at first but people learn pretty quickly that it can make things run a LOT better with time.

shuckyshark
Level 13

grain? i thought we were talking about trains...

cxi
Level 12

My next closest I can go is Brains... zombie daemons...

rschroeder
Level 21

Trains?  I thought this was all about what was buried in the North Dakota prairie?

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cxi
Level 12

I wish when I clicked on those images... they enlarged.

rschroeder
Level 21

Google is your friend.  Search for North Dakota Missile Silos, or Minute Man Missile, or something like that.  You'll find a lot of information.

If bigger images was all you wanted, you could search Google Images and choose the "Large" size option, as I did here:

https://www.google.ca/search?q=north+dakota+missile+silo&lr=&safe=active&sa=X&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=...

cxi
Level 12

Well, yes but I wasn't sure if you had a personal story behind these particular images.

Like I know of some folks (indirectly, from having worked on, whether carpentry, or IT work) in some of these "rich people bunker homes"

rschroeder
Level 21

Although I've lived in a major shipping port city for the last 25 years, I don't think of silos as being associated with shipping.

All my childhood was spent surround by farm silos, and that's my context.

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rschroeder
Level 21

My personal relationship with Minuteman Silos is second-hand.  I had a favorite relative who ran a Standard Oil fuel oil delivery business, and he regularly stopped by silos and filled their fuel tanks (for heating & generator use, I assume).  As a child in the '60's I imagined being important enough to have to work in the silos, maybe participate in a launch . . .  Thank heaven for unanswered prayers!

Today I'm much more aware of what would result from seeing the prairie skies lit up with arching smoke trails heading to the horizon . . .

Casualties.  Retaliation.  Nuclear winter.  Fall-out.  Starvation as plants died and cold set in. Radiation in the water.

No wonder they called it "M.A.D."

Happily, most of the folks in decision-making roles today are mature enough to understand the ramifications of M.A.D. behavior and politics and posturing.  May we never have another nuclear test or event of "aggressive diplomacy."

gfsutherland
Level 14

Having been in both environments... each has it's merits and pain points.

My experience has been in Siloed environments you are forced to speak to your opposite number, and there is a good chance you know who that person is.....

Either way.... project management is the key to making it all work. Starting with "Check your ego at the door!"

vinay.by
Level 16

Wonderful article

mtgilmore1
Level 13

Image result for icbm siloImage result for icbm siloImage result for icbm silo

rschroeder
Level 21

PBS did a fun story about a missile silo that had a major accident--a worker dropped a tool from high up in the silo.  It bounced and broke a rocket fuel container, which started spraying highly toxic fuel into the silo.

Given some of the human errors that may have occurred within a silo, and how their clean-up may be extremely expensive (and easier to hide than correct), I'd remain skeptical about living in a silo.  Between services issues and water leakage problems and getting insurance for one, their novelty isn't enough for me to offset their hassles.

Of course, if you lived in Tornado Alley, an underground, hardened missile silo might seem pretty attractive . . .

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Jfrazier
Level 18

yep...best place during a twister is underground.

ecklerwr1
Level 19

That's one thing I don't miss about Ohio anymore now that I live in Arizona!  Now we have these:

PHOENIX-HABOOB-2.jpg

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These were last year 2016!

gfsutherland
Level 14

wow... that's impressive!!

ecklerwr1
Level 19

It's about time we spend some money and modernize some of those!

missile-silos-920-37.jpg

rschroeder
Level 21

Somehow those sandstorms don't make it into my local TV news reports.  Those are huge--look like they must be from overseas.

ecklerwr1
Level 19

They are called a Haboob.  It's not a good time to be on the freeway when they hit.  That and monsoon rains in the late summer are the worse weather we get here.  We're luckily mostly out of any earthquake zone too.

rschroeder
Level 21

Seriously?  You have Haboobs and monsoons? 

Are you SURE you're in the United States?

Like, maybe you're in Morocco?

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ecklerwr1
Level 19

Sometimes it seems like it but no it's just Arizona Valley of the Sun!

rschroeder
Level 21

OMG.  Just Googled Arizona Valley Of The Sun Haboob.

https://www.google.com/search?q=moroccan+sand+storm&safe=active&rls=com.microsoft:en-US:IE-Address&t...

I think I'll accept our mosquitos over that kind of sandstorm.

shuckyshark
Level 13

gotta love thwack...where else can you start a serious conversation about silos and communication, then end up in sand storms and tornadoes...

Jfrazier
Level 18

I'll stick with Texas...

We have enough blowing sand where I live.  Can't keep the dust off the motorcycle.

Then if it is pristine, I get covered in bugs at 05:30 since the lights attract them in the dark and being in a rural area there are fewer lights to draw them off.

But we do have the occasional grapefruit and basketball size hail...  Well ok, the grapefruit size has been confirmed.

rschroeder
Level 21

It's a reflection of our endless exposure to all things Internet, and the tangents that come from habitual surfing.

Or . . . maybe having to track too many tasks & notes?

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bobmarley
Level 15

I personally like our silos

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rschroeder
Level 21

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shuckyshark
Level 13

do you need assistance examining the contents of the silos to make certain there were no issues or hackers?  I'd like to volunteer.

bobmarley
Level 15

I agree, we should gather a user group together and host the first annual 'compliance crawl'

michael.kent
Level 13

I think silo's start being created because it becomes too big not to. However they aren't necessarily a bad thing, provided you can establish a good level of communication between them.

Our best tool in recent times to assist with this has been deploying HipChat.

network_defender
Level 14

Works better if there are fewer teams.  To do everything listed for our team,

Security needed syslog servers deployed. - Network team

The storage team would need to provision the capacity for these servers. - Network team

The virtualization team would need to deploy the servers. - Network team

The networking team would need to provide IP addresses, and the appropriate VLANs, and advertise the VLANs as appropriate if they did not exist. - Network team

The virtualization team would then need to configure those VLANs in their networking stack for use.  - Network team

Once all that was accomplished, the networking and security teams would need to work together to configure devices to send syslog data to these servers. - Network team

There are seven people on my team.  We each have different areas where we the SME's.  I lead my team by committee, meaning we spend a lot of time discussing and white boarding best path forward.

Jfrazier
Level 18

There is a point where separation of duties fractures the ability of a company to do some things efficiently.

Granted it does help to keep certain responsibilities where they belong and prevent others from overstepping their bounds...

Finding that happy point is difficult and over time can be even harder to maintain as roles and responsibilities change.

swenson_nathan
Level 8

First off, nice post. We have been in the process in our department to remove silos over the past two years. Navigating how to work with each individual to build trust with leadership, but more importantly with each teammate has had it's ups and downs. I whole heartedly agree that

a common goal or purpose is the only way to drive people together. My question is what common purpose did you find for the team, and how is it expressed to the team? One thing I did when I became the team supervisor is that I mandated that we were a team and that I wouldn't put up

with silos, that I would build trust, and that we it was important that each team member built trust with one another or we would wouldn't 't be successful. At the same time, I let everyone know that personal recognition is important. Letting staff know their contributions. Over the past year I reinforce this on a continuous basis.

rschroeder
Level 21

If only . . .!

ew_ofd
Level 9

Great post!

Honestly, the siloing of IT makes thing difficult. Project management can really save the day if it's done properly.

With silos, everyone seems to have the frame of mind that it's someone else's problem. In the last few places I worked, this turned the department against itself and made work almost impossible. Having clearly defined lines and well documented roles should be key, but allowing the department to work fluidly and take part in solutions that would not normally be part of their job description provides awesome opportunity.

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