Carlos Leyva

Silicon Stories

Chapter 3: Process Patterns

Bad Actor Pattern

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The Bad Actor is an individual, in a specific role, whose behavior tends to increase, rather than decrease, the entropy of the system. It is the responsibility of the Director to modify this individual’s behavior early in the game (or at any other time the pattern is manifested) or eliminate the individual from the role (not necessarily the organization).

Bad Actors tend to have lots of questions but appear to be totally incapable of contributing to a solution. They tend to postpone or outright sabotage the decision making process. They are cancerous, and if their behavior cannot be dramatically improved, must be cut out, or risk killing the patient.

Just Say No

Big Automation Company hired a project manager to lead the development of their next generation simulator. This individual appeared to have all the right credentials and pedigree. She had a solid technology background, had project management experience, and had worked on similar products at different companies. I was the chief architect, but it was her project.

Initially I coordinated some Breaking Ground activities in order to get the ball rolling. I gradually eased myself out of the process in order to let her assume a leadership role (i.e. what she was hired to do). After three months, it became agonizingly painful to endure the endless excuses as to why she could not develop a meaningful project plan.

This was the next generation simulator. The current product had been extremely successful in the marketplace but had become long in the tooth (understatement). The plan was to re-architect and re-develop the product using state of the art technologies and add some features that would leapfrog the competition.

In other words, the next generation product had to functionally do everything that the old product did, and a little more, only with a different set of base technologies. We knew the “what”, it was the “how” that was in question. This individual’s primary complaint was that no one had sufficiently established the requirements. Never mind that it was her responsibility.

Shoot ‘em if you have to

Finally, after numerous (far too many) attempts to rectify the situation, my patience was stretched to the breaking point. I was forced to call bullshit. Most of the requirements were embodied in the current product. The task at hand was something that a competent project manager should have been able to handle with aplomb. There was another dynamic at work here (i.e. fear, uncertainly, and doubt). The entropy was increasing at a significant rate and impacting the entire team.

The product development manager eventually took the appropriate action and removed this individual from the organization (there was not another suitable position for her to assume). The removal of Bad Actors is a painful process for all concerned. However, it comes with the territory and must be handled in a professional but expedient manner.

Elimination of Bad Actors dramatically improves the script.

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