The Business-Technology Weave

Jul 30 2011   6:01AM GMT

Frankensteins, Pt. I – Expensive to Maintain, Hard to Dismantle

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott


Many of us have seen situations where a person of considerable general competence accumulates duties – like a magnet.  They attract responsibilities that in some cases go far afield from that which they’re supposed to be doing.  Why does this occur? 


It is often expedient – and perhaps even necessary – in an environment where other people are not held to appropriate standards of performance.  Many times conscientious people volunteer to get the job done – whether it’s in their sphere or not – and deliver on whatever the task, whatever the assignment. 


Neither Business nor IT should skew work that way.  Don’t build up a position as a reaction to ‘negatives’ – and inadvertently create a hybrid position that is difficult to maintain in the longer term.  A “Frankenstein” job position:  Particularly for small-to-medium business (SMB) environments; take heed.  Particularly as you grow, be absolutely certain that leadership and HR begin to put formal, tried-and-true (longstanding, effective, efficient) Position Descriptions and definitions in place.


Too frequently in the SMB environment, a position is cobbled together from many “parts” (disciplines, requirements and exigencies) without regard to best practice, known IT definitions, or long-term consequences.  Many times Business goes right along – the ultimate stakeholders.   For their part, HR often does not dictate adherence to appropriate definitions and distribution of duties.  Nor does IT’s ultimate executive management do this.  Frankly, oftentimes no one knows any better – or the organization deliberately ignores deviations in trying to soothe the pain of the moment. 


Today’s Expediency – Tomorrow’s Emergency


Why would any organization or leader create positions of this nature?  Organizations create hybrid, Frankenstein, positions in order to keep their staff small.  The problem that arises is that, as the particular disciplines’ sophistications increase within the umbrella of the Frankenstein position, more and more time to manage those disparate disciplines is required.  It becomes difficult to train up for the changes – akin to having a foot in two different boats, each beginning to diverge.  It’s one thing to track the requirements and attend a schedule of training in remaining current in a particular field of endeavor, or fields closely related and supporting; it’s quite another challenge to remain current in a variety of disciplines – too often training is ignored or missed due to the sheer challenge in covering disparate environments.  A point of diminishing return is quickly reached. 


Consider too that when a Frankenstein is removed from the environment for one area of training, you are removing your support to the broader range of disciplines supported within that position.  This is inefficient.  You may put the entire gamut of disciplines at some measure of risk (whether this person is absent through training, or other loss). 

Not everyone has to be a specialist, and there are always degrees of exception to everything.  However, if you have extremely disparate disciplines under one job position, they will become increasingly difficult to straddle, the job will become increasingly difficult to do, increasingly difficult to populate, and there will be increasing difficulty in maintaining currency.


Where possible, and as work increases in your IT department, or as certain disciplines start to require more time, you’re better off creating a new, entry level position and hiring a relatively junior member to populate it.  Step that person up over time as the position demands an increase in capability and responsibility.  Alternatively, you can “hire up” slightly when there is turnover, and boost the position description to reflect new realities. 


You not only risk stretching people too thin, and putting coverage at risk:  Good people can become frustrated.  When good people tire of covering too many disparate bases – or worse, other people’s bases – they’ll seek greener pastures where they can concentrate on an appropriate contribution on a better functioning team. 



On this day:  July 30, 1928George Eastman demonstrates the first color movie.     

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