Thursday, June 17, 2010

Could Obama manage a Web server outage?

Imagine Barak Obama in charge of Information Technology department of a small Internet company. Now imagine one of the company's web servers goes down spewing error messages and interfering with customers accessing the website. What would manager Obama do? Well, if he'd handle the situation the same way he is handling the oil leak in Gulf he would:

  1. Play golf
  2. Shut down every other server in the company even those not connected to the website
  3. Declare that those responsible will be punished
  4. Play golf
  5. Visit a few customers to commiserate with their plight
  6. Call a meeting to find out who is responsible
  7. Dispatch someone to the desk of the lone technician trying to fix the server to continually harass him and to keep reminding him that he is fired the moment the situation is resolved
  8. Hire a consulting firm to find out who is responsible
  9. Make a speech about how good it would be if there was no need for servers at all
  10. Declare “war” on the server and the technician who's trying to fix it
And the server is still down...

Now just as a comparison let's see what a normal IT manager does in this situation. As an IT professional and a manager myself I see situations like this handled on regular basis and I'm not talking about a good manager just about anyone who can hope to keep his job for a while. That's because manager Obama would be fired on the spot if he did just half of what I described.

So here it is, the actions of a normal manager in the situation described above:

  1. Cancel plans to play golf
  2. Instruct technicians to transfer load to the remaining servers and ensure that they run as smoothly as possible
  3. Go over to the technician trying to fix the server and reassure him that no blame will be assigned until the situation is fully resolved and proper investigation is done
  4. Explain to everyone that their first priority is to resolve the situation and not to find out who is responsible
  5. Declare that any help in resolving the situation will be rewarded regardless whether that person is responsible for causing the problem or not
  6. Make every possible resource available to those working on a solution
  7. Tell everyone to either help those fixing the problem or not to distract them
  8. Solicit alternative solutions from everyone and set up a meeting to review them
  9. Inform those fixing the problem of alternative solutions that came up and make decisions on how to proceed based on all input
  10. Call customers and/or superiors to take responsibility for the outrage and to inform them of the progress being made to fix it

And only after the problem is fully resolved conduct an investigation into what lead to the problem, how it could be avoided, who is responsible and then take any necessary punitive action.

That is what a normal manager would do. And that is what Obama would do too had he had any experience in running anything even a coffee shop. But unfortunately for us he did not.


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