When will we decide as a profession that we have had enough of the IT cowboys, firefighters and heroes? Isn’t it time for the sheriff to run every last IT cowboy out of town with orders to never show their face around here again? Isn’t it time for us to employ those skilled in fire prevention instead of a bunch of smoke jumpers that parachute in to save the day?
I am thinking as I write this that I should not use the collective ‘we’ in this post or pin this on the ‘profession’. I should be direct and ask you, as the CIO or senior IT manager, why you tolerate IT cowboys and firefighters in your organization.
Your answer is probably for purely selfish reasons? You probably enjoy a certain personal benefit from calling up your favorite IT cowboy or firefighter to be dispatched to a situation you want to be handled expeditiously.
You know it destroys every bit of work you have put into creating a mature service delivery model capable of controlled and predictable delivery. You know IT cowboys and firefighters can destroy employee morale and team cohesion which comes at a significant price.
And yet you do it anyway. Every time you call your personal hero to fix your email on your iPad instead of calling your own help desk. Ever time you look the other way when you need something done but don’t want to wait for your own governance or process to work ts course.
Cowboy vs Gunslinger and Firefighter vs Arsonist
So you have made a conscious and measured decision to allow a certain amount of cowboy to exist in your organization. Perhaps you even have your spurs and six shooters proudly displayed behind your desk.
Just remember there is a fine line between IT cowboy and gunslinger. If you like sports you might appreciate the comparison of a Brett Favre to a Peyton Manning. As a Packer fan I can attest to the excitement of having Favre as your QB but I don’t appreciate all the drama that comes with it or not winning games.
The distinction also exists for the firefighter that might be getting rewarded for putting out his own fires or the ones he could have prevented.
Nip it in the Bud
Every time you don’t fire your cowboys, firefighters and heroes for not following your own processes the problem only worsens. It will also get harder to stop your cowboys from becoming renegades capable of taking you down with them when it all blows up.
The only way to deal with IT cowboys it to not allow them in your shop in the first place and to let them go at the first signs they just don’t want to get with the program. This isn’t always easy since we can confuse people that like to keep to themselves as not being team players. But being a loner is not the same as being a cowboy.
IT Cowboy Managers
Take everything you know about IT cowboys and multiply it times 10 if you have an IT cowboy in a manager role. That’s because cowboys and firefighters hire and reward cowboys and firefighters which only leads to no good.
The cowboy manager is easily confused with the one who takes decisive action and cuts through the red tape which you probably put there for good reason. The cowboy managers are also the ones that require a small army of trail hands to clean up behind them.
The real issue for CIO’s is to recognize the distinct possibility that no one will tell you about all the trouble your IT cowboy manager is causing. That’s because your cowboy probably enjoys a certain protected status which every cowboys is acutely aware of which only fuels their hubris.
It’s Your Mess to Clean Up
The only way to clean up an IT department of heroes, cowboys and firefighters is from the top-down. The CIO must personally lead the transition to rewarding fire prevention and controlled delivery.
You may have to sacrifice some immediate benefits for the sake of longer term gains. Gains that you probably never thought possible because you haven’t experienced working in a mature and orderly IT department.
If that’s the case, consider hiring someone to work with you behind the scenes who can coach you through the transition and help you take on your cowboys.