free html hit counter
Posted on: Wednesday, 27 May 2009 by Rajiv Popat

The Hibernation

You join Multiplitaxion Inc as a young and budding manager who is consulting for them.

Here's the story so far: The team you are being asked to lead was being led by a a certain Fred. Half way through the project Fred decides that the project is officially screwed. Then one fine sunny morning when the sky was clear Fred decides to disappear and does.  He doesn't disappear completely though. He leaves some part of his culture behind.

You are called in.

"He was making stupid mistakes" – you tell yourself - You can do better.

Then when you spend a couple of days at the client's office you realize something else.

He was the last one to leave.

Before he left he had ego tussles and power struggles with any genuine builder who could have fixed anything. Most of them left before he did. Others have been rubbed the wrong way and have gone into what I call the builder's-hibernation.

None of the genuine builders at Multiplitaxion Inc, care anymore.

As a manager, the 'builder-hibernation' is a phenomenon difficult to explain.

You know what it is when you see one in action

How do you know when it happens?

You know when Jack, a seriously kick-ass builder who used to gate crash into your office and shout at you, asking you to get the monkeys out of his way, stops showing up.

Or when Jane, who was working on your other branch office, stops giving you the direct-to-the-point brief calls when she feels something isn't going right.

Genuine builders will usually take a lot of abuse and continue to work silently. Incompetent managers, loud work environments, unreal schedules --- genuine builder tend to notice this details rather well but they are too busy to react to take any of this seriously.

Then the stupidity keeps piling up.

Slowly.

To a point where something happens and the thin thread snaps.

To be honest, beyond a certain point; where a lot of organizations and so-called-managers go; a lot of things can make the thread snap.

For example, this young and budding manager you hired last month rubs a few of your genuine builders in the wrong way; or says something that is intimidating and down right insulting.

Snap.

The thread breaks.

And then there is silence.

Followed by chirping of crickets.

You continue to get the long-winded status reports; that say nothing; by your so-called-managers. But you suddenly stop seeing Jack; your core engineer.

Jack is the guy who used to gate crash your cabin with one single sentence - “we need more time to ship quality; we are delaying the sprint by a week; can talk later if you want or I can give you more details in an email if you need that but we can't ship crap.” - and then he used to leave without wasting a whole lot of your time.

When Jack does not gate-crash anymore and you have to turn to that status report to see what the team is up to;  it might be an indication of Jack moving to a hibernation.

The builders slowly switch to a mode where they do exactly what they are told to do. They cover their ass and become disinterested to even care or give a rat's ass about the project or the organization that they once felt so very passionately about.

They start 'doing their job'.

Put simply, they go into a full fledged 'hibernation'.  The feedback loop snaps and all you are left with is cries from whining employees.

“Do you want the system to remember the last time the user logged in” - specific questions of this sort, by Jack and Jane; as they build; stop.

Suddenly Fred is telling your clients and stake-owner what the problem is - “The requirements of the login use-case aren't yet clear and they are constantly changing; we need to have a meeting to freeze the requirement because if we don't it's going to be really hard to start construction”. 

When that happens, you know you've lost it.

When that happens, Dot-com companies wind up.

Your job as a builder, story teller, manager, vice president, director, chief executive officer, board manager, entrepreneur or whatever it is that you are, is to avoid this hibernation from a ten mile radius.

If you don't understand how lethal it is you should.

It's lethal for three reasons.

First, the chances of any builder quitting and joining another company are huge during his hibernation period when compared to his chances of leaving when he is genuinely connected to the pond, feeling the ripples and taking corrective action. Genuine builders usually do not quit for factors like a small hike in salary; but make them feel disconnected and you've just multiplied their chances of quitting.

Second, it contagious. Builders usually work in closely knit team. The young and budding manager may have rubbed one genuine builder the wrong way; but  chances are high that others that work closely with him are going to disconnect and hibernate sooner or later.

Third, it stops genuine complains by genuine builders and amplifies the voice of the whiners. Those meetings where 'requirements are frozen' and 'use cases are finalized' suddenly become important. Processes and rules become important. Deadlines become important. Then slowly, showing up at nine in the morning becomes important.

Jack and Jane go from loud warnings, to whispers, to silence.

They are hibernating.

When you start losing touch with Jack or Jane and when they stop showing up, it's time to react like the life of your project, team and organization depends on it --- because to a large extent, it genuinely does.

When was the first time you witnessed a genuine builder or a team of builders go into hibernation?

What caused the hibernation?

Did they come back and feel connected again or did you just lose them?

What brought them back?

Have you ever disconnected or hibernated, dear reader?

Discuss.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.