Build Yourself A Personal Firewall

It’s not only computer systems that need a firewall but also for anyone in a leadership position.

In some cases, we need a firewall, load balance, and anything else to help free up our resources and let us focus our energy and time on the things that really matter to us and the business.

“The key is not to prioritise your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”  Stephen Covey

I am fortunate in my career to work with some great technology leaders, whether in my own organization, or those I support around the globe.  

We have all had the same problem of being a bottleneck in our team at some point.  Sometimes we are just too close to see it and need someone to remind us to stop and put in layers to protect ourselves. We also need to allow others to take over and grow allowing the team and systems around us to grow at a faster rate without us being the bottleneck.

A common issue I see is being ‘the only one’ that knows a certain platform, or a bit of code in a legacy part of the product, or how to work with a library that went out of support 5 years ago. 

This list of challenges (or excuses) is endless. I call it the Brent Syndrome (reference to The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, George Spafford, and Kevin Behr).  

The issue we have when we are the bottleneck is that we think it’s quicker if we get that bit of work done and  move on.  

The reality is by doing this, we are creating a rod for our own backs as this work will never leave us and the system, that is our team, will never evolve without us always being there!  This is probably the biggest growth mistake we can make as leaders, and I see as a leadership coach.

So how to solve this?

First, and arguably the hardest step, you need to realize you are doing it!  

I say this because earlier on in my career I never spotted when that was me.  

However, I was lucky to be in a good management team or had a coach guiding me to stop(!) and do something about it.

You now know you have a problem, how do you go about solving it?

  1. Understand the immediate issues, and put in a fix now!  Don’t delay.  Quite often we all try to do the best for the long term, however, if you are in this situation you are probably also very time-poor as well.  Therefore come up with a way so you remove yourself from being the bottleneck in this current situation.  Normally this will mean pairing up with someone and showing them what you do. This will take you longer, but unless it’s life or death, you must do this immediately.
  1. Create a list of where you are the knowledge bottleneck.  My suggestion is to start a list and over a week/month fill this in.  I am never able just to sit and write the long list, but over a week your subconscious self will help you make it 10x longer than you originally thought. You must be very honest with what is on that list.  It does not matter if you don’t have the skills in the business for you to stop doing something, write it down!
  1. For every item in the list name your firewall.  This firewall is the person/team that is going to intercept the request before it gets to you.  Once they intercept it, they will try and deal with the request.  

As this is the case, it means that person needs to get some form of training or knowledge transfer on that request.  This means you will have to figure how that training is going to take place.  Will it be you, external support, etc.  

Solving this type of issue is a really good use of your time, so get this bit correct as this will ultimately allow you and your teams to scale.  

In my experience I would also suggest that if this item is important to your business then use the ‘load balancer’ technique, as it suggests, have multiple people trained up and dealing with this type of issue.  Remember, this will cost you (your time, energy or budget), and that cost will be significant, but you have to trust in the process and go with it.  

Over a 3-6 month period, you will find that the firewall and load balancers are handling all the requests and you have released your capacity to do the things you should be doing, the real added value part required of you as a technology leader.

  1. Start a cadence of knowledge transfer sessions with the wider team.  This could be for the items that you are a bottleneck for, but my recommendation is to do this with everyone and everything.  Get the team to take it in turns and present something different once a week.  

Keep the sessions short and sharp.  

Ensure there is output from each session, so this could be creating a wiki article, updating code comments, etc.  The key is to make sure that knowledge goes into the ‘system’ and not into someone else’s head!  

By doing this, not only will you remove yourself from being the bottleneck, but you will be helping and training those in your team to avoid the same problem.

So the question you might now be asking yourself.

How do I know if I am being the bottleneck?  

The truth is, we typically know when this is happening it’s just that we don’t  like to admit it.  

This is where a member of your management team or a coach really helps.  If these are not available and you want to do a check, then my standard technique is to create a diary. 

Create a one week diary of the things you are working on.  You don’t need to go into lots of detail, but put in broad areas that will help you identify where you are spending your week.  Eg internal meetings, emails/slack, coding (new product), coding (bugs) client meetings, etc.  

Use a tally and mark down your time in 30 minute intervals.  

The results will quickly answer the question for you.

To conclude – Key things to remember when building your own personal firewall;

  1. Your time is important so make sure it is being used on the most important thing for your business;
  2. Ensure you are not the bottleneck in your team, systems or processes;
  3. Immediately fix wherever you discover you are the bottleneck;
  4. Put in a system for knowledge sharing so that no one person becomes a similar blocker and the philosophy is consistent across the team.

About the Author

Sanjay Mistry is an experienced COO/CTO and also one of the longest serving leadership coaches at CTO Academy, working with technology leaders around the world. He is also one of our tribe leaders, facilitating experienced CTOs through our 3 and 12 month group coaching programmes.

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