DevOps Culture Anti-pattern: Information Hoarding

All of the previous cultural pitfalls I discussed have been focused on systemic issues with organizations, teams, or groups of people. This is truly the one that requires individual effort to defeat. Even I have to be intentional about sharing what I know that would make others on my team have the same successes. This differs from the Tribal Knowledge Anti-pattern in that organizations create and force single threaded resources. This forces people to “stay in their lane” which creates hard boundaries in what people know how to work on. Information hoarding usually comes from an individual place of fear and insecurity.

You and your teams could be successfully using ChatOps capabilities, have daily standups, and have a Wiki that everyone uses. But this is about individual contributors who are running contrary to what your posted team goals and intents are. Here are some signs that you or someone you work with are facing an information hoarding challenge:

  • Concern about who “owns” certain systems
  • Wanting to do things only the “right way”
  • Lack of trust or empathy for others plights
  • Not wanting to introduce change

One of the main goals of DevOps is to focus on the entire system and reduce bottlenecks to increase the flow of work. These issues above become blockers to a productive project or team. Working with another person to solve a problem means that compromise from expectations is likely.

Various methodologies like DevOps, Lean, Agile, Kanban or Improvement Kata focus on getting better with minor adjustments. This way of solving problems will require an initial solution state followed by a series of improvements. There is not only one right way to solve problems, and there is not a “done” state for work, only “done for now”. Change avoidance is part of the problematic mentality because it can mean others gain knowledge in the same space and as they improve a process or system, it shifts the label of subject matter expert to the one making it better.

When blockers become obstacles, people revert to going over, around, or through them. But it is much more efficient to be a gate that opens than an obstacle to success. Whether you or someone else is the information hoarder, the ideas to combat these should apply to both:

  • Using a task tracking system to document steps during build out and issue resolution.
  • Providing feedback about the blocking behavior from the cross section of a collaborative team, including supervisors and project managers.
  • Finding a teammate willing to start sharing processes and ideas for improvement.
  • Setting clear expectations about the level of information to be provided to documentation repositories or ticketing systems.
  • Talking to collaborators in person or on the phone rather than through chat or email.

These become human resource management tasks, so any work like this should occur with directors or supervisors of the offending party. Long term effort in this area should be tracked for progress. It is important to understand how critical these issues are to address. In the long term, a resource can be navigated around to the point that they lack productivity or value to the team. These are career building efforts that, if improved, can have a huge impact in the growth potential of people in an organization.