Brendan Enrick

Daily Software Development

Replaceable Employees

Some of your best employees are your most replaceable ones. To top things off, that’s what makes them good employees. Someone who is not replaceable is a problem waiting to happen, and the sooner you can replace them, the better.

While my statement runs contradictory to most of what I’ve heard from other people in my life, I don’t think what I’ve said is really all that crazy. If you’re in the software business, you’ve probably heard of the term “Bus Factor”.

“The bus factor is the total number of key developers who would need to be incapacitated (as by getting hit by a bus/truck) to send the project into such disarray that it would not be able to proceed; the project would retain information (such as source code) with which no remaining team member is familiar. A high bus factor means that many developers would need to be removed before the project would necessarily fail.” – WIkipedia January 2, 2013

It’s really just a measure of how well your organization is sharing its information. If you’re doing well, your bus factor is a large number. If you’re not doing well, your bus factor is 1.

Think about that for a minute. What that means is that you want to have employees who share their information. Sharing information means that more people have the information. This means that the employee can easily be replaced, however, you’re not likely to replace someone who shares information with the rest of the team. If you replace that person with someone who doesn’t share the information as well, you could hurt your bus factor.

Now you’re thinking about long-term benefits. It turns out that if you silo yourself off on a project and don’t share information with anyone else that you’re hurting the company. I think everyone knew that already, but these people are often said to have “job security”, because losing them would be a problem. Well I think that’s crazy, because it’s dangerous to keep that person around! If you keep that person around longer, it will only mean creating more information silos. This is an issue that can only get worse, and one you’re better off solving now.

If you’ve got employees holding this information, you can either get them sharing it or replace them. If they’re not willing or able to start sharing their information, you need to replace them now. Yes, it will be bad when someone knew has to learn what that person was keeping secret, but it could only have gotten worse. Eventually, you would have been very dependent on that person.

Keep in mind that you’re not doing this so that you can replace your team for the sake of doing it, you’re doing it in case something comes up. If an employee of yours is hit by a bus, out sick, or just on a vacation, it’s nice to know that others can pick up the slack. You keep employees who are easily replaceable. They’re your best ones.

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