Single Point of Failure (Part 2 of 2)

Doug Bellamy / July 2017

If you’ve read my columns and articles in this publication over the last eight years or so, you know full well that in the late 1980s it became apparent to us as an organization, that we needed Standard Operating Procedures and a formal quality program, which we developed and called “Definition of Quality Service.” What you may not know is that in doing so, it was apparent that all of our processes needed layers of protection against a single point of failure, or SPOF.
At the time I had never heard of SPOF. It simply became evident that if we were going to avoid failure, responsibilities needed to be shared. It was everyone’s job to make sure job #1 was doing our job as a company and on the whole. Tasks didn’t belong to an individual, but rather individuals. Furthermore, they were at times company-wide. We were a drywall company and delivering a quality product, on time was a shared task. We could not afford to rely on any single employee or even department(s) to completely eliminate potential failure.
Adopting such an approach was unusual for our industry at the time. To be truthful, I don’t think it is all that common now in the construction world. Consequently, whenever we were hiring, we reviewed our SOP, which included a specific emphasis on the elimination of SPOF.
As our SOP was reviewed, it wasn’t uncommon that a potential new hire would speak up. Some would disagree. They might stop us and say, “That’s not my job!” We promptly replied, “When you work here, it is.” At that point, we either agreed or agreed to disagree. We either agreed on that point or the hiring process stopped.
It wasn’t necessarily that black and white. We explained our rationale but also made it clear that the value of our approach made it non-negotiable. This is how we operated and if they couldn’t agree, employment wasn’t an option.
We knew we operated differently, but that difference was making a huge difference. Problem-free execution was radically improving. Nevertheless, we often get that same reaction from new hires, simply because we organize our approach to avoid a “single point of failure.” We are fully convinced that the proper approach is one of redundancy, and tasks should be shared responsibilities.
Many businesses in our field rely on a particular person to be completely responsible for a task. While holding everyone responsible for their job is important, we’re dealing with human beings. It’s an unsafe assumption to expect humans to be perfect. However, operating on safe assumptions such as three or four humans not failing to make certain a particular task is completed is much, much safer. That’s the way to build an organization, by layering and sharing responsibilities based on common goals.
No doubt, the best approach is to layer responsibility and have multiple people who interact at a particular point and who are responsible to see to it that tasks are done correctly. They work interdependently. That is to say, they hold one another accountable and make sure that what needs to happen, happens. By doing so, we greatly reduce the potential for organizational failure.
Business managers shouldn’t need to be looking over everyone’s shoulder. Everyone within the business should be. Accountability isn’t to management, but to one another. Failure of an individual is failure of the whole. It should be a shared goal, in the interests of the common good, to succeed. This business supports us, it is our livelihood.
Ask yourself one simple question: Can I watch my business better than every participant can? The answer is obvious.
Tasks should be shared responsibilities, and specific individuals (note the plural) are to be certain that things get done right. Participants are expected to work interdependently to be certain failure doesn’t occur. They are required to make sure something happens, and they are also responsible to hold each other accountable and if necessary do it themselves, even if it’s something that normally (in other organizations) wouldn’t be their responsibility.
What, then, can we say about management, attrition, turnover, accidents, deaths (God forbid). We need those being groomed, waiting in the wings, ready to take command if the first layers of defense fail. What about succession plans and/or generational transition in management? There’s a lot to think about if you’re big enough to take it all in. Do yourself a favor and do so. Don’t let SPOF put you in the wrong spot.

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