I recently finished reading How to Castrate a Bull by Dave Hitz, one of the founders of NetApp. I found one concept in particular to stick in my head: as companies get larger they naturally gravitate away from needing hero’s to needing more process. Dave tells the story of how during the early years of NetApp, one support engineer went above and beyond to satisfy the needs of a customer. The support engineer took a call late in the evening and determined the customers NetApp unit needed to be replaced. The engineer went into manufacturing, took a new unit off the line, hopped a flight to the customers’ location and worked all night to install the new unit. Once word got back to Dave about the engineer's heroics, the engineer was nowhere to be found. Turns out, the engineer was asleep in the customers’ parking lot inside the van he had rented. Dave points out that at the time, this engineer was hailed as a hero but that now he hopes this kind of thing never happens again. Why? When NetApp was a small company its customer base was generally small organizations with very little gear. They themselves where very nimble and acted on failures in their enterprise very swiftly. The catch is, given their small size and the amount of IT gear in their enterprise, they usually did not encounter a large number of failures. When failures are rare, organizations can afford to rely on hero’s to step up in those rare occasions where duty calls. As enterprises get larger, the amount of IT gear and the complexity of the environment that gear supports also grow. Failures become more common place and the degree to which you can rely on hero’s is diminished. For example, for simplicity say a piece of IT gear has an average failure rate of once every 365 days. A small organization with only one of these devices can expect a failure once a year. A larger organization with 365 of these devices can expect a failure every day! Larger IT enterprises need process to deal with these repeated occurrences, not hero’s to step up on rare occasions. Hero’s come and go, process is permanent. Dave's point is that the same behavior that won the engineer and NetApp accolades from the small customer years ago, would likely lose business in a large enterprise
This evolution from needing hero’s to needing process is one of the most subtle yet important changes an IT leader must make as his or her enterprise grows larger and more complex. Tearing down technical fiefdoms, redefining reward systems, purposefully slowing down to gain control and potentially even making staffing adjustments is a daunting set of goals. This evolution inside of IT is a natural part of organizational growth and if handled correctly can be a very exciting managerial challenge.