Death By A Thousand Cuts

Benjamin Faust

I was watching a movie on YouTube the other day and a scene really stuck in my mind.  I won’t go into details but the phrase “death by a thousand cuts” seemed to sum up what was happening.  While the details were not important, the idea that the person did not die as a result of the first cut, or the second, but was left to slowly exsanguinate seemed to resonate with me.

In my mind “death by a thousand cuts” seems to sum up the state of IT in many organizations.  It’s not one thing that is causing problems, it is a multitude of smaller issues that, when combined together, cause the IT organization to struggle

Most organizations cannot point to a single thing, a single process / person / procedure, as the source of all their ills.  If they could then they can eliminate that factor and everything would be sunshine and roses.  But the odds are in my favour that there is more than a single problem.  There are tens of problems, hundreds of problems, or, like the title says, a thousand problems.

Cultural debtTechnical debtChange rateFailure to obsess? Digital transformation issues?  There are hundreds of factors that can be impacting an organization causing thousands of problems.

Each problem, each cut, while in and of itself being something so small that no one is really concerned, gets added to the previous cut and the next cut, until the host is literally bleeding to death.  IT suffers from this malaise. You know that there is something wrong, but you can’t put your finger on it.  That’s because it is not a single problem, but a plethora of problems that is really the root of the issue.

When trying to effect change you need to do a number of things, primarily among them engaging the people who are going to be affected by the change.  If you just run in and try making all sorts of big changes you aren’t engaging the people, you aren’t convincing them that you’re on a path to success.  You need to have some “quick wins” as everyone says.

Those thousand cuts? You need to put a band-aid on them.  All of them.

Sometimes, it’s easy and a big change (ex, waterfall to agile) can cover a multitude of cuts.  But sometimes it is nothing more than spending ten or fifteen minutes, looking at a process and reducing the number of steps or decreasing the amount of time to execute the process.  Each cut is a problem.  Each problem has a solution.

As I’ve mentioned previously:

We need to strip down our processes to their fundamental core, remove as much extraneous fluff as possible, and implement those changes.  Put the band-aid on the cut and move on to the next.  It’s not glamorous work.  The surgeon gets the glory, not the nurse who bandaged up the cuts prior to surgery, but both parties are necessary to get the job done.

Success is not measured by the number of things you do or how big the items were.  Success is measured by how happy the people are after you’re done.

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