The following post originally appeared in Human Infrastructure Magazine, a Packet Pushers newsletter on life in IT. You can get a free subscription to Human Infrastructure by signing up here.
There’s a need for gentle confrontation when it comes to dealing with provisioning requests that don’t have any context.
Too often, engineering teams work in the dark, knowing little about the projects for which they build infrastructure. Team leaders or managers likely possess the big picture, and they send requests down to the minions.
Oftentimes, projects managed this way are only partially successful — the basic ideas might be right, but the infrastructure configurations are not optimized for the application being deployed, which can degrade performance or availability.
The key to an optimal deployment may be a little bit of confrontation.
Confrontation is not comfortable, especially for introverts. But building infrastructure to support a business is a serious matter. Therefore, why not speak up, educate, and then collaborate, with the goal of overall project improvement in mind?
When you confront, confront gently. Chat politely with the person who made the request, the project leader, your IT manager, and anyone else willing to share context with you. Be clear that you are trying to achieve the best possible result and not obstruct or procrastinate. Try to find some common ground early in the conversation, too.
“Hey, Susan. You put in this request for a new VLAN and an IP block. We can definitely do that, but I was thinking that if this is for Project Eagle, there might be some better alternatives. Got a few minutes so that I can bounce some ideas off of you?”
Educate. Chatting with an IT manager, project lead, or peer in another silo is an opportunity to share options. You’re not there to lord your superior knowledge, demean, or ridicule — not even subtly. You are there to present possible alternatives, along with pros and cons, to help make an informed decision.
“Well, yes. Last year we absolutely would have built the virtual IP on the Killer Monkey ADC cluster as you requested, but since then we’ve standardized on a new virtual ADC design with more compute power and stronger security. Project Eagle is a great opportunity to leverage the new design. Are there any objections to doing that instead?”
Collaborate. Confrontation and education are tools that build a bridge to collaboration. What any organization really wants is for their IT silos to work together when building business applications.
“Susan, is it okay if we bring Patel in to chat? He asked me to do some Project Eagle-related network provisioning for the Magnetic Mountain storage array. But…I have a feeling if the three of us talk this through with a whiteboard, we can tweak the design for lower latency and better resilience in case of a network failure.”
When handled properly, confrontation can lead to better peer relationships as well as better designs to support. Better designs should lead to better production environments, and that’s good for your employer.
You’ll also discover that the better you are at contributing thoughtful, non-competitive input to the conversation, the more likely it is that you’ll be included up front the next time a big project comes around.