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Alas, Poor Bob

“Bob died.” More than once in my career, I’ve heard that statement. Ken, Bob, Frank – few remember the names of these software developers who were hired to do a job, usually for a company who really didn’t understand the magnitude of the system their business required. So they went with either the cheapest solution or maybe the owner’s nephew or their network administrator who dabbled in writing code and could “write a great solution” for them because he “understood” the business.


And Bob worked on their solution, often completing it and continuing to support it for a while. But then Bob died suddenly of a stroke or heart attack or cancer or being hit by a bus. Perhaps even with some warning as was the case of the one guy who had cancer and thought he had 6-9 months remaining but sadly was gone within three months and was far too ill in the end to worry about the software calamity he was creating.   (And I keep using the male pronoun because….well……… they’ve all been men.)

These poor fellows left a complete mess with their clients. Unintentional but a crisis nonetheless; causing these companies to call us in a panic. “Can you help us?” Of course, the answer in all things technical was “Maybe. It depends.”

Turns out, we could, and did, help these companies, ultimately writing an entire custom business solution for each of them. But there were several painful lessons.

  1. Going with the proverbial one-person-show – While there are wonderful, well-intentioned developers out there who do a great job, the danger is always that something horrible may happen to them, as in the case of our clients. Or maybe something wonderful like a winning Powerball lottery ticket. Although in the case of the latter, one would hope that there would be some time for a hand-off of information and processes. Regardless, your business likely cannot run efficiently or even at all without your computer systems. You wouldn’t have the operations of your entire company held solely in the palm of one person, so please don’t put your information systems in such a precarious position.
  2. Maybe not bleeding edge, but at least in the current decade – It’s extremely difficult and time consuming to stay on top of the most recent technologies. This is especially true when you are the only one doing all of the work, leaving little time for research or attending classes, etc. In a team environment, people do research and share it with their colleagues and often have lively “debates” (well, sometimes actual arguments) around the topics. Regardless, it opens up everyone to new ideas and methodologies. Working alone, and I am speaking from first-hand experience, is a very lonely time and doesn’t leave you much opportunity to gain exposure to new ideas and techniques which benefits your client in improved systems and streamlined methodologies.
  3. You are NOT stuck with the situation – Often when we’re called in, the company says they felt “stuck” because the one person knew so much about the systems and they felt held hostage. That is a fallacy. There is no system that can’t be figured out although it may be an expensive undertaking (forgive the pun). We have had multiple situations where we’ve not had any help on the system functionality and code and we’ve managed to work our way through it. Sometimes there is “documentation” comprised of some old dusty notebook printed on green-bar paper (remember that?) that hasn’t been updated in 20 years. Be aware that your company isn’t ever “stuck”. If you are working with a company or person that you’re not happy with, you can always change the situation. Find someone to work with that you like and trust.

So, don’t let your company get into a situation with one person holding the keys to your information systems. This can happen in companies of almost any size.  No one is irreplaceable and, if they are, you likely aren’t paying them enough. Get someone else brought up to speed, whether it’s internally cross-training the team or bringing in a consulting group like DragonPoint to help. It doesn’t have to be perceived as a threat to “Bob” and, who knows, he may live longer if he’s not under so much stress.

Long live Bob…. And let’s hope your company survives it.