Leadership Lessons from Paul Bahler: Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

I’ve been working with Paul Bahler at IGS for almost 4 years. During a majority of that time, Paul has lead our IT Operations team which includes Database Administration and DevOps. I’ve seen Paul lead our department of over 125 talented individuals through major accomplishments and incredibly difficult situations. Regardless of the outcome, I manage to learn something from Paul’s years of experience.

When I think back about the key lessons that I’ve learned from Paul, the first story that jumps out was when we were in the process of launching a new website. This launch involved using technology that the team was unfamiliar with and we had encountered several unforeseen issues. In short, we were behind schedule and in danger of missing a critical deadline that had been communicated externally.

In a situation where deadlines will likely be missed, people have a tendency to still move towards the happy path. One of the key lessons I learned from Paul during this issue was how quickly he forced all of us to consider what failure would look like. Instead of simply pressing forward and hoping for the best, Paul asked us to come up with a contingency plan in case we were unable to hit the deadline. Based on the information we discussed, we realized that failure was not an option for our team but we learned that we could make some concessions in an effort to reduce some of our workload until after the launch.

The prospects of missing a deadline and/or cutting corners increased the tensions among the team. At the first inkling of conflict and finger pointing, Paul immediately squashed it. He didn’t dismiss the fact that we needed to make improvements to ensure that we didn’t find ourselves in this same situation during our next big project. Instead of looking back at the root cause of our problems before even we completed the project, Paul suggested that we hold a formal “retro” at the conclusion.

Fortunately, we launched the website on time and without any major hiccups. The project team met at a restaurant a few weeks after the site went online. We discussed what went well and most importantly the areas we could improve. I remember walking away from that meeting feeling a lot closer to the team along with a sense of what I could do better next time.

While I hope I don’t have to use these lessons in contingency planning and continuous improvement anytime soon, I’m really glad I have gained this perspective from Paul and look forward to working with him for years to come.

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