Single Point of Failure (Part 1 of 2)

Doug Bellamy / June 2017

Our goal organizationally should be to eliminate single point of failure (SPOF). For those who may not know what SPOF is, I’ll provide some definitions. SPOF is one person, policy, process or piece of equipment that your organization completely relies on and has no back up for. Organizationally our goal should be “never fail.” This is not some far-fetched, unachievable goal. With the right plan, system, process and people in place, it is possible to eliminate 99 percent of failure. Yes, at times a failure may occur, but it can and should be so rare that such occasions are hardly worth mentioning.
Your organizational approach should be so layered with redundancy and checks and balances that you filter every action to the extent that it has to get past no less than three responsible parties in order to fail. In such cases, failure will be minimized into insignificance, and your organization can and will function remarkably and exceptionally well.
Wikipedia can give us a hand here, providing further definition: “A single point of failure is a part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working. SPOFs are undesirable in any system with a goal of high availability or reliability, be it a business practice, software application or other industrial system.”
I’ve tried to make the following point repeatedly throughout my columns. All too often (drywall) construction companies are either ignorant or lack the sophistication and/or the business acumen to operate in ways the business world typically understands and practices. We have a lot to learn.
I know we have some great leaders and really smart people in our industry, but we have to admit that’s certainly far from typical when it comes to construction management. This is all the more true when we think in terms of our workforce and in some cases, supervision. The truth be told, many tradesmen have minimal education—some didn’t finish grade school and have trouble reading, writing and communicating. This problem is exacerbated by the current lack of skilled labor.
Keeping this simple, let’s say you have a fence with 4”-by-4” squares, and you throw a softball at it. Chances are that softball hits a portion of the fence but passes through. The softball getting through is our problem, and the fence is a SPOF and isn’t sufficient to prevent that from occurring. So then, we run a second layer of the same fencing, slightly offset covering the midsection of the first fence and against the first layer creating redundancy thereby reducing the chance of the softball getting through. However, when thrown hard enough, the softball gets through 50 percent of the time. If we apply a third layer slightly offset of the first two layers, the ball cannot get through and bounces back 100 percent of the time. Problem solved!
Filters, backups, layers of protection and redundancies are all methods to avoid SPOF. It is all about covering the “what-ifs” and eliminating potential failure. Taken to an extreme, too many layers of protection can become wasteful. However, generally speaking, too much protection isn’t the problem when it comes to most businesses. Far and away inadequate protection and too many single points of failure exist when a business is carefully examined. Sometimes it is pathetically obvious, merely glancing at an organization. jn such cases that is a major management failure. That lack of adequate protection SPOF is a dangerous vulnerability and one that needs addressed ASAP.
We humans are imperfect creatures. No argument there. Completely relying on a single individual when it comes to personnel failures is a perfect example of SPOF. However, when we humans synergistically cooperate, we can develop failsafe systems.
By now, unless your operation is prehistoric and nearing extinction, you’ve adjusted technologically. Computers, email, text, software and smartphones have all become an integral part of our day-to-day operations. Some of you have no doubt suffered the loss of data due to SPOF, that is to say, no backup. That’s a tough lesson to learn, but those of us who are in the know, know better than to allow that vulnerability. Consequently, we utilize a backup system on site and offsite, perhaps offsite in what’s come to be called “the cloud.” Whole businesses, moreover a whole industry, have developed technologically to address and eliminate SPOF. Don’t you think we better do something about it in our businesses?
Next month I’ll give you some more relevant examples/solutions when it comes to our industry.

Doug Bellamy is former president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. He is known for his original thought, innovative approach and the personal development of unique processes, systems and procedures. He is available for consultation, business management seminars and training. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at