Dealing with rapid change
It’s never going to be perfect
I know a number of sysadmins, myself included; who always are striving to get to the “perfect” system. It’s a wonderful goal to have and it should definitely be what you’re aiming to do, but you shouldn’t hold onto the perfect vision despite everything else, at the end of the day you are at work to provide value to the business not to hinder it. This is not to say that you shouldn’t have morals, and that there are not things that you need to stick to your guns on, as long as there’s a good business reason for it you can pretty much do that, but again, at the end of the day you are there for the businesses benefit.
The first part of dealing with rapid change is to realise that it will never be perfect, any designs you draw up now will be totally inaccurate a few months down the line or the business would have changed significantly where what you were aiming for has now moved. Goal post syndrome. So you have to be adaptable, your plan can not be strict in execution but it can be a guideline to what you are trying to achieve. Once you have accepted that it will never be perfect it makes life a lot easier when compromising on the little decisions and means you can focus on getting towards the goal rather than achieving the goal, as long as each change is a progression towards the end goal there is really no need to argue the point, you may want to go “above and beyond” to deliver a little more benefit but that should be off your own back.
The second part is all about knowing what is important to hold onto and what is not. It’s very easy to treat every decision as being vital to achieving the goal but normally they are not so important. As I mentioned before, it’s more important that you are moving towards the goal than achieving it, so any decision that moves towards the goal should not be contested, by all means try and add extra work in to get to the goal quicker but do not contest the task.
You should never really carry out tasks that make things worse, and I’d suggest it is these that you hold onto a little bit (not a lot…), make sure you point out why the task makes things worse, if needed make sure you get it in writing, but ultimately you need to get the task done if the business needs it, regardless of it making the overall system worse.
Making sure it doesn’t get un-manageable
So assuming that you have had to make some changes that are not in-line with the end goal you need a way of dealing with it, you have to track the fact that because of one change you have extra work to do. This is called “Technical Debt”, it’s what you accrue when you make a change that is not overall beneficial to the management of the environment or has a negative impact on the business in the long run. You’re always going to have some technical debt because you will never reach your goal, and if you do you will be dreaming up new ways to create technical debt.
These types of changes that produce technical debt can be summarised as “Tactical” typically because the business needs it now to remain competitive. The trick here is to not be objectionable to doing the tactical change, at the end of the day you have to deliver X by Y, so the scope of changing how you do that is finite, from the sysadmin point of view you can do an elaborate deployment if you wish, as long as you meet the time based deadline. This gives you the ability to try and carry out the task in a better way and hopefully reducing the technical debt.
This post was all about how to deal with rapid change, so far I’ve only really taked about making the decisions around what is important to hold on to and not arguing about every detail. This is important as it will make you less objectionable and hopefully minimise the technical debt, but you still need to deal with the technical debt.
Every time you have to make a tactical change that produces technical debt, spend a couple of mins logging tickets or making note of all of the individual actions that need to happen to get back out of the situation that has now been created. This is vital as the next time it comes to prioritising a project you have a shed load of evidence that says what you need to already fix to get back to a positive position, to make sure that is easy to plan in when you log the tickets make sure you capture the amount of time it will take to do the task.
Hopefully your boss will like the fact that the work has been captured and you can discuss how to reduce the technical debt to get “back on track” if you’re really unfortunate and your boss still has desires for tactical changes that eventually lead to fire fighting you have a nice list of tass that you have raised to say that you should be doing those to get back to a point of not fire fighting.
Don’t be too stuck on arguing the point of a task, eventually you’ll lose so just focus on minimising the technical debt that it causes and where possible only make changes that progress towards the end goal. I’ll write something else next week about dealing with technical debt, mainly because this was getting too long. Just take away from this that you don’t have to hold on to you technical bone to get your way, you just need to make sure that if there is a negative change the remediation work is tracked.