Answer #2 is Obviously Correct

From a previous weblog entry, a tour of a modern aircraft carrier prompted the questions:

Is it possible to run your IT shop [like an aircraft carrier] as such an incredibly structured, high functioning, ready-for-anything organization? Is this right way to manage a technology group?

There are three general consensus answers for this question:

1. Absolutely. This is what IT groups everywhere should strive for.
2.
Irrelevant. Such comparisons are overly idealistic and inherently flawed.
3.
Good for perspective. Some concepts should be used and applied to illustrate possibilities and how to approach things differently.

Three different managerial personalities are each defending their respective answer. Mr. Irrelevant get his say second

Knowledgeable and experienced IT managers know that Answer #2 is correct. This aircraft carrier comparison is somewhere between a bad joke and a delusion of grandeur. For some reason, pseudo-macho IT managers have the ego to think that what they do is “just like” some incredibly complex organization. I have the deepest respect for the Navy for being able to effectively manage such a complex fleet, however there is need to overcomplicate things in the average technology shop.

In the world that the vast majority of us live in, the military approach is a terrible form of managing IT. It is process heavy, squashes ideas of thinking for self, discourages creativity, and makes it hard to retain talent. If you posture as the “captain” or “commanding officer” you will always be distant, disengaged from your from your staff, and they will resent the hell out; even if they put on an act of being good soldiers/sailors. Your approach destroys trust and teamwork and results in worse IT. You encourage them to cover up or pass along problems, and bury them for fear of whatever discipline measure is in your handbook. You will be setting yourself up for failure, likely with the delusion that you are a tough-yet-fair manager who would rather be respected than liked, when in fact they can barely stand you. Thinking in bad parallels will blind you to what is really going on. Besides, what are you going to do if your staff members don’t fall in line? Throw them in the brig?

Mr. Absolutely needs a reality check because he can’t see how ridiculous Answer #1 is. The non-parallels in this parallel are endless. His IT staff is not putting their lives on the line. They have the option to quit and go work somewhere else within a short timeframe. His IT staff is not spending 24 hours a day together in an isolated environment. They actually get to go home every night, have weekends and holidays. Don’t get me started on how business trips are “pretty much the same as being shipped out; away from your family for days or weeks at a time.” If Mr. Absolutely’s staff is on the road or on call 24×7 like a lot of us, it is because a database corruption or server failure, not because there is an attacking inbound hostile about to be gunned out of the sky.

Answer #3, from Mr. Good for Perspective, is wholly disruptive. Why complicate your situation by drawing any unnecessarily parallels? If you are planning a disaster recovery drill for your key systems, then do that as the focus and the reality. Glorifying it with a “mission” theme distracts from the scope of what is being done. Many talk about making their systems and operations “bullet proof.” Metaphors abound, but it is far better to avoid parallels and say exactly what you mean. Despite what your managers or vendors tell you, there is no such thing as a bullet proof system, literally or figuratively.

Ultimately, get back to reality and go manage your IT group.