Friday, February 24, 2017

NMFP: The cancer from within

Not my problem (NMP) - (n)
  1. a statement, or position, of apathy expressed by those who perceive they are external and unaffected by a negative predicament. While sometimes warranted, it is typically uttered by those who perceive themselves as powerless; can’t be bothered; are too lazy, or are selfish non-contributing leeches. See also “complete cop out”, and Not my <fluffy> problem (NMFP)
  2. an attitude that will stymie attempts to implement DevOps in your organization and will thwart success
  3. (archaic) Actually not your problem

The phrase “Not my Problem” may be an english turn of phrase, but the concept is universal. In Poland, they have an idiom “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje malpy”, which translated to english is “Not my circus, not my monkeys ( a nod to my friends Daniel and Piotr).” Some of our oldest stories bear witness to how timeless NMP is. In the the biblical story of Cain murdering Able, God approaches Cain afterwards and says “Hey Cain, I can’t find Able. Do you know where he is?” Cain’s response is the famous “Am I my brother’s keeper? (NMP)”

We have all heard it, and I am sure we have all said it ourselves, many times over. Let’s be honest with ourselves and reflect on our own actions. I am sure we can all recall ample examples of this in our personal life. But how many times have we uttered that phrase to justify our own inactions at work?
  • You’re in engineering and sales slump: “That’s what Sales makes top money for.” (NMP)
  • Someone on your team just had a major setback in their project: “I got my own projects to handle” (NMP)
  • You see an area at work that is in critical need of improvement: “That’s not in my job description.” (NMP)
  • A colleague you work with is having an obviously hard time today: “I stay out of personal business.” (NMP)

And the ringing bell of condemnation of our actions is the stinging fact that we would almost never have actually said that to the people we witnessed being affected.

So what does this have to do with DevOps? I attribute NMP to be the #1 culture killer; and without culture, you don’t have DevOps. How can you have a culture of learning and sharing when people are only out for themselves? That is what NMP implies. People who have an NMP attitude are like a cancer eating your good culture from the inside out.

I recently witnessed this in my second youngest son’s basketball team. When a certain kid wasn’t at the game, the team would perform, even under pressure. They might lose, but they would be in the fight the whole time. If this other kid was at the game, a decent street ball player by all counts, they might win, but they usually lost by heaping amounts. Nothing was ever his fault, and when others on his team would make a mistake he would be the first to yell at them. As soon as they would be down a few points, it would be worse and his bad attitude would spread to every other kid on the team (except my son, thankfully). They would end up losing by many points when this happened, even to teams they had beaten handily before. Why the coach ever let him play, let alone play point guard, is beyond me. But his lack of a sense of team and his own self-glorification hurt his teammates more than him. He deserved to lose, they didn't.

But, we don't always get it wrong. The other day, I was speaking to a dear friend, and fellow DevOpserati, Jude Seth a Client Architect at MuleSoft. He said they have a culture, written, understood, and embraced that forbids “Not My Problem” from even existing in their vocabulary.
  • If sales are slumping, everyone feels the burden to brainstorm and contribute to help generate pipeline or accelerate deals in play. Sales isn’t underperforming, WE’RE underperforming.
  • If someone on a team has a major project setback, everyone chips in and feels compelled to help get it on track. Your project isn’t late, OUR project is late.
  • If there is an area at work where someone feels there is a gap, they get to work on addressing it themselves, pulling in others as needed. “You don’t need to do something, I need to do something.”
  • A colleague is having a rough day, they make sure to help them with their daily work, perhaps do something nice for them, or have them go take some personal time. When you’re hurting, WE’RE hurting.

It is this kind of change in ownership of success and failure that has to happen in order for historically separate groups can work as one. It can no longer be an Ops or Dev or QA or InfoSec issue. It has to be OUR issue.

I have seen many companies and teams eaten up with the cancer of NMP. You can do all the team building events and “trust falls” that you would like, but when it counts, will you be the one who quietly tiptoes out the door while your teammates work to resolve an issue? Because it is this behavior that causes the whole thing to collapse. It can’t be “All for One, and One for All (except Bob because he’s kind of a selfish jerk).”

If this brings to mind someone on your team what are you going to do to address it?

Or is that not your problem?

This blog was inspired by a great colleague and companion of mine, Steve Karam. We too have a great culture of ownership at Delphix, and Steve embodies it perfectly. This mega-genius is constantly at the forefront of tackling different issues at Delphix and is always quick with a kind word, helping hand, and a smile. When I think to myself, “NMFP”; my conscious tells me “Don’t be a jerk, be more like Steve.” Follow this beautiful human being on twitter @OracleAlchemist on his blog.

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