If you are not aware, “A Dude Named Ben” refers to the generic and often ignored systems administrators who work at/in organizations.
When the IRS lost all their emails, they claimed total ignorance, and had no idea who their tech people were. This video is entertaining and can explain the origin or the term, but has very little bearing on this post. Enough background! Let’s get into it.
Every school has at least one “Dude Named Ben”. I often find in times of crisis, such as massive hardware failures, Technology Directors and School Administrators do not know how to support the process and procedures needed to literally save critical technology infrastructure.
In many situations, the school administration and the head of technology do not have the professional experience required to deeply understand infrastructure, therefore, they avoid managing or being directly involved in situations related to critical infrastructure.
The fact is a good manager or leader can always help a person who is working on a tight timeline and is highly stressed, and often feeling totally isolated with the problem. Here are some simple steps to take to assist any Dude Named Ben, without getting in the way.
Make the Timeline and Targets
Unless the situation is dangerous or hazardous, the first thing that should be done after the briefing is to set the timeline and targets. Many people want to just start working, this is not a good idea. People need to talk out problems. Most people relate well to time and urgency.
- Start by asking what steps have to be taken to get the status quo back.
- Then ask what needs to be done to determine what caused the problem and prevent it from happening again.
- Then start inquiring how long each step should take, in a normal situation.
Now there is a set of goals and a general understanding of how long it should take to complete them all. If time is actually lacking, then start asking the tough questions such as, “Which of these steps could we skip, and be operation but not perfectly operational by our deadline?”
This is where leadership matters. This is where ownership of the consequence can shift, and the system administrator(s) can work and feel supported. There is always a chance of failure, and people working in fear are not going to work as well as someone who is being supported by leadership. Also, this process builds confidence. When administrators take time to listen and understand, the barriers come down and an honest explanation and list of issues will surface.
Set Some Rules for Health
Yes, I know how it sounds, but it is important. If you have a team that must pull a 12 hour plus shift, or work in some adverse conditions, then make a plan to keep people healthy. Provide food, drinks, and mandatory breaks. Set points where everyone steps away from the problem, reviews the targets and timeline and reflect on the work. This is a great time to make adjustments and reconsider some priorities.
A manager or leader can control and manage all of these things for the team that is handling the problem(s). It is one less thing the team has to worry about, and they will appreciate it. Odds are, the problem will be more complex than it seemed initially. So having a team that is willing to go that extra mile without being asked will make all the difference.
This is an Opportunity, so Seize it
When things break, and have to be rebuilt, it is an opportunity to make improvements.
It is critical to know why the failure happened, and to mandate that steps be taken to prevent it, not to fix it. Fixing can imply that the old system needs to be patched and kickstarted back to life, only to once again fail.
Seizing the opportunity could cost some more time, but the benefits often outweigh the loss of time. Identify those who will suffer the most for the lack of the resource(s). Explain the problem, and that the idea is not to fix but to expand and improve. Use the word opportunity often, and get the stakeholders to agree.
Your Dude Named Ben is a person. Remember that. If you can form and manage teams, you can help in times of crisis. Trust me, it is not fun being that guy -sitting alone- and knowing everyone is waiting for you to pull-off a miracle.