Justice League has a Single Point of Failure – Does your team have one too?

**Spoiler Alert** – If you haven’t seen the 2017 Justice League movie, reading after the below introduction may spoil it for you. It’s important to go deeper in the story to explain the intended purpose of this article.

Zack Snyder directed Justice League, released last year, is a great example on my team building workshops. Although, IMHO, this is not the best DC movie ever created in terms of mediocre script, predictable plot, over-hyped and overwhelming special effects. My complain is more towards the movie itself not the team. Only good part of this movie is, the absence of Superman – the humble man of steel. Usually, his presence is counter productive in strategic situations that need true leadership like Batman & Wonder Woman.

Not everything needs power, sometimes it’s about tuning down, so your team members can rise.

Most important fact we can learn from this movie – what happens when your most powerful member of the team aka Superman, gets “Hit by a Truck” or in this case already dead. By the way, this was apparently the 2nd most expensive movie ever made.

Single Point of Failure? – Guess What!

Detailed plot can be found here but I will only highlight the part that is relevant to our topic of discussion today.

Relevant Plot – The movie only shines for like 5mins when a zero memory Superman is resurrected. A small mistake by Cyborg’s reactive weapon angers the man of steel and the wrath of Superman begins when he alone dominates every member of the league and almost killed Batman with a pinch. Thankfully the contingency plan pre-calculated by Batman saved his own puny human arse.

Enjoy the moment below:

We all have seen a Superman in most teams; without a plan B when they turn hostile.

Let’s give you an example that might relate to our profession.

Think of a person in your software development team (or any team) – an exceptional developer with a plethora of domain knowledge is being “Productive” with his/her headphones on. He/she might also be known as a “life saver”. You ask a question and most probably get all your answers and your problem is sorted. The rest of the equally competent new team members have potential but lacks the domain knowledge collected over years. But it was never shared neither there are any documentation anywhere. The superhero believes he/she is too busy and someone else should do the useless documentation while he/she can “Do Some Real Work”.

Now imagine the below 2 scenarios when that person becomes the bottleneck –

1) When the Superman is “Hit by a Truck”

Now, one unfortunate day that awesome developer calls in sick before a product launch. After hearing that, if you don’t feel a chilling flow of blood running down your vein right now, possibly in the stomach, I have no words for you. It’s hard to even write about it as an example, as it’s so common. The next thing we know, the product launch is cancelled, stakeholders are furious and our lives are hell.

So what do we do? We call that same person, apologise for calling when he/she is actually unable to stand, requests him/her to connect to VPN and troubleshoot the issue. In most cases, it doesn’t get resolved and we are all in a over-salted pickle topped with habanero bits. Like what happened in the above movie. Superman is dead, so the world is doomed as we were relying on him too much the whole time and never thought of having a Justice league until the shit hits the fan.

2) When the Superman becomes hostile

The person isn’t sick but need a raise 😉 for obvious reasons. Performance review time –

Manager: As you know we didn’t make any profit last year, so no one is getting any raise this time. Not even me.

Superman: It’s not fair. I have been working hard, more than anyone else in the team and usually I am the only one on call even though I never get paid for those live issue troubleshootings. No one else seems to do that neither are capable to do it.

Manager: Well, yes that is true but you never wanted to document anything, pair with them or taught them how to do it either when they asked for it. I understand you are over stressed sometimes but it is because of the unshared knowledge.

Superman: When do you expect me to do it? It’s a 5mins thing when I do it, it’s 1hr when someone else do it. Are you saying you rather wait for an hour to get a live issue looked at or even fixed? Anyway, I will need that raise unless I will have no choice but to leave. I always help out when the company needs it, I deserve it.

Can you blame the superman in this case? Especially when he/she has a point.

Superman will never ask for help !

What we should ask ourselves:

Why wait for that moment to come? Why not be ready for a moment like this?

If you have been to this situation, the first thing you ask – “Only if we had someone who knew a little bit of this person’s work. Doesn’t have to be as efficient but to do the job in anyway, a quick fix” We have all been there and pulled our hair out.

The trick is to not tolerate a superman like the above. It may sound weird, why would anyone not want a superman in the team? Well a Superman is only necessary for short term benefits and when we keep repeating the behaviour and tolerate a dysfunction, no long term benefit can come out of it. Also it’s not really good for the Superman in the team which the person may never realise.

The reason a person tries to be/stay a Superman is to create a bottleneck so his/her presence is felt for personal gain, like the salary negotiations or promotions. There are some who don’t do it on purpose though, they simply are not team players and would rather do anything asked without even thinking if it has any business value at all. These members hinders creativeness among other team members who are equally capable but have their hands tied. On above scenario 1, no one wants to work and that’s their punishment if they are doing it on purpose.

In some cases, the person who is a bottleneck may be an introvert or very shy. it’s very common among developers due to the profession. Hence they may not even ask for help even if they know they need, making themselves overstretched in daily tasks. Eventually on one day this shy person won’t be able to cope and simple resign.

 

Create your Justice League before the Superman dies or turn hostile. Shared skills & knowledge are the key to crisis management.