Take note!

Dear reader,


What you read is a new word that a friend of mine, one that I consider a mentor, invented a few days ago. It is more an acronym than a noun, but it will be useful in discussing some topic about system design, strategy and personal growth for co-workers.

Let me start by providing a little context about the situation we were facing.

I recognised that a particular area of my division at work was critical because my specialised knowledge had no backup: it was clear that we needed to find someone able to learn the matter and to put it, consistently over time, into practice to keep it fresh. We had a handful of name to pick from, and somebody suggested to appoint a competent senior programmer to absorb the needed knowledge. However, we were immediately aware that the person was already in charge of many other important aspects of our IT software: he could become an SPOF, a Single Point of Failure.

If you don’t want to dig into the ever useful Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_point_of_failure), it suffices to say that an SPOF is the single most important piece in a mechanism that, were it to fail, the whole system would stop functioning (e.g. the engine in a car, the top stone in an arch, the router in your home network).

We were considering the appointment, but wait! My friend had a sudden thought, and gave voice to it: “He could become an SPOMF, a Single Point of Multiple Failure!” That is, an SPOF for more than one system. To be extremely precise, he would not become an SPOF for the aspect we were dealing with, since he would have become a backup for me, but the pressure of being crucial for many facets of our business and the sheer amount of details to keep in mind could defeat the purpose of appointing him entirely (i.e. he could be less effective than we thought). He would also experience stress and anxiety without any real benefit for himself and others.

The end of the story was this: we appointed a less senior person to get acquainted with the subject matter. She was happy to take a look at something new, felt no pressure, and she has already helped in dealing with a couple of issues. This is an opportunity for her to grow in her profession.

As Peter Drucker wrote, decisions regarding people cannot be taken on the spur of the moment, but once you think about them for a while, the solution is usually as clear as the sun.

One last thought: I spoke about this with the senior programmer, stating that the decision was taken not because he was not worthy (not the case at all!), but to preserve him from unnecessary work. I heartly hope he won’t feel “put aside”, it was clearly not the intention.

Until next time, try to fit SPOMF in your next Scrabble game (and see if your opponents agree with it!)