Robert I. Sutton, best-selling author of Good Boss, Bad Boss, writes that “the best bosses do more than think big thoughts. They have a deep understanding of their industries, organizations, and teams, the people they lead, as well as other mundane things.” It’s those “mundane things” that too many business leaders and high-level managers tend to lose sight of. These three lessons from the world of web development can help regain that focus on the small stuff that really matters.
One of the most common errors programmers learn to avoid is known as the “off by one” error. In perhaps the simplest example, a function that should start at one begins at zero, or vice-versa, throwing off everything that follows. An off by one error can cause dysfunction across an entire program or even introduce serious security issues.
The lesson for business leaders is that getting something wrong, even if you’re extremely close to getting it right, can still have devastating consequences. Imagine, for example, that you run a Chicago-based tech company, and the New York Times asks to interview your CEO at 3:00 p.m. EST. If you get on the call at 3:00 p.m. CST, you would’ve missed the appointment by only an hour, but you’d have missed it all the same.
Of course, business leaders are more likely to get thrown off by far more subtle strategic blunders than simple scheduling gaffes, but the point is to illustrate how missing the mark even a little still counts as a miss. There are seldom partial successes.
Programmers like to hedge their bets. If something goes wrong, there are often checks in place to keep things running smoothly. These types of redundancies are little things that developers introduce deliberately with an eye on the big picture, so that the functioning of the program doesn’t rely on a single command.
That’s more than just prudence–it’s prudence that informs systemwide thinking. There are those who claim that various tiers of review and approval can stymie innovation–and in some cases, they’re right. But there are other scenarios where imposing various tiers of review makes sense. Not only does that keep critical operations running smoothly, it also makes sure everyone is performing up to snuff.
Good managers also know there’s a danger in asking some employees to specialize too much. If one piece of the machine goes out of commission, you need to make sure there’s enough coverage available while that piece is getting fixed. A great boss should be able to step into any subordinate’s shoes for the interim and fill gaps through the right staffing decisions for the long term.
Broken links are one of a web developer’s biggest common concerns, especially in the e-commerce world. If a product link stops working, not only does the retailer lose the ability to sell the item, it risks losing customers who might have made other purchases as well. Yet the cause of a broken link is often something small and easy to fix, like an incorrect digit in a URL (remember that “off by one” error).
For business leaders, a broken link could be any process that doesn’t lead to its intended outcome–the same way a broken product link on a website causes a 404 error. Sometimes clients try to email former employees. Or two department heads aren’t communicating well. A great boss should identify these broken links proactively by going right to their source, working out a resolution, and looping everyone in once it’s been fixed. Sometimes it takes more than one try to get it right, but a good web developer keeps at it until there’s a solution in place. Great managers and business heads should do the same.
Robert Brodie is CTO of the eCommerce and business development consultancy SUMO Heavy