Posted on behalf of a friend.

My friend recently had her boss quit. Her boss had been there for 13 years and in that time, had never taken vacation and always did the oncall work. He abruptly quit two weeks ago when they again denied him a raise and has thrown the entire organization into a panic trying to figure out what he even did (as he has a team of 10 developers, but they never touched half the stuff).

He took a Friday off a week ago and three key systems production systems broke that day and required the company to spend a ton of money on an expensive consultant to get them back up (he was not answering his phone and the systems are worth thousands per hour).

One of the consequences of the massive disruption is that the development team is getting lots more money to try and prevent further problems. Money for consultants, raises, and "team building lunches" (as they decided that a lack of social interaction among team members is why nobody knew what the boss did) is flooding in.

The boss is being replaced by someone who openly supports a bus factor of 1-2 for job security. Obviously he doesn't tell management this, but he opposes documenting systems that are currently being built. In addition, he parceled out 2-3 systems per dev to document and told them to keep the document on their local machine (where the boss has access, but nobody else) and not put it on the wiki. He views the mess of the boss departing as a way to keep the department high on the list of company priorities as well as "a canary to tell us if they want to can anyone as they will tell us to document."

My friend thinks that this guy is great for looking out for his employees and as long as the document gets passed to the next person who replaces them, the knowledge base stays fragile as far as management is concerned but for what the boss and 1 team member know.

Are there any potential downsides that you can think of?


It's awful.

I cannot stress enough that the new manager's plan is to ensure that the company is vulnerable to the exact disaster it just experienced, which the company almost certainly is trying to actively prevent from happening again, at a time when the company is likely to be most attentive to these issues and severe responses will be least expensive. It's like a plan to rob a bank that was just robbed yesterday, using the exact same robbery scheme.

If the new manager was hired in response to a previous disaster regarding a low bus factor manager, and their first goal is to make sure that that exact risk is preserved forever by not doing the things the extra money was allocated to the department to accomplish they are playing a risky game.

The previous problems were caused by an overreliance on a single employee, with the result that the company was exposed to serious risks at nothing more than that employee's whim. The company spent a "ton of money" to deal with the worst-case scenario (which happened to them!) in which that employee left, costing them revenue (in the form of system downtime) and costing them money directly (to hire the consultants to get the systems back up).

It is very, very possible that the company is doing more than sticking a new person in the same job, and then treating them the same way and remaining exposed to the same risk. That they are paying staff more than before, and spending extra money besides on things like team building lunches, only means that your group is more expensive than before. Maneuvering the company into a position where they are exposed to the same risk at a higher cost sounds challenging and risky.

If I were responsible for overseeing this new manager's work, anything that even seemed like slow-walking documentation or failure to reduce bus factor risk would make me seriously consider showing this new manager the door within six months. Reducing bus factor risk in this area would be my top priority after necessary daily operations, and I would be working actively to ensure that it was happening.

And since the costs of the bus factor event were just paid, in full, recently, there will not be a better time to clean house-- the costs of a bit more staff turnover are probably not striking compared with the costs of the catastrophe they just went through.

For the employees working under this new manager, there are risks as well. Some of these include frantic work if another bus factor event happens, scrambling when the brittle documentation strategy fails, a poorer reputation with the employer (even after they gave the staff more money, they just pocketed it and continued on with a plan to ensure they could extort the company at their convenience!). And if they end up being burned a second time (or are even just fearful of that), jobs for those employees might get a lot worse very quickly.

The new boss' plan may work, but it requires a lot of things to go perfectly in a context where that will be particularly difficult to pull off. And if they don't go perfectly, or they do and the plan was just faulty, is your friend certain that the new manager will take the blame and leave, rather than scapegoating a direct report?

  • 3
    There is a certain brazenness about OP's boss's scheme which doesn't sit right with me. There are 10 developers. Even if they are a tech company, they probably have 30 employees at least? Bet it's more as the company is at least 13 years old. So at least 20 others experienced disruption, which means that someone at the highest level in the building would know about what happened. Does the new guy plan for nobody to check up on him to see if it might happen again? I wonder if something else is going on. – Matthew Gaiser Nov 22 '19 at 23:34
  • 3
    Six months? That's overly generous. If you have a manager who is actively working against the company, you let him explain himself, but if his explanations doesn't make sense to you, you show him the door the same day. Once you can no longer trust someone, that person needs to go. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 22 '19 at 23:51

This is a Prisoner’s Dilemma, and all it takes is one person defecting to ruin it for everybody else.

Simply put, by acting in a manner counter to the organisation’s goals and then recruiting the rest of the team to do so as well, the new manager has effectively created a Prisoner’s Dilemma situation, where all it takes to ruin something is for one person to defect by telling the manager’s manager what is going on - and where doing so may well be rewarded by the upper level management, if only by building a reputation of honesty by that person.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.