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Our Greatest Strength, Our Greatest Weakness

By David Poole,

Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is on holiday.

The role of the DBA is to ensure that the portion of the shared data asset residing within the databases under his or her control is appropriately available. I use the term “appropriately available” to encapsulate performance, security, resilience, availability, recoverability and stability.

The characteristics of a person suited to the role tend towards being cautious, methodical and disciplined. The role does not reward the Gung Ho. When presented with a new idea for the way in which databases should be managed, DBAs will be quick to spot weaknesses in the idea and threats that the idea poses to the task of ensuring appropriate availability.

Reading through the 2018 report from Redgate on the state of Database DevOps, I begin to question whether we look beyond those weaknesses and threats posed by a new idea and explore adequately the strengths of the idea and the opportunities that it presents? Why do only half of us have our databases under source control?

Perhaps we should take a conscious decision to explore the strengths and opportunities of an idea first before following our natural inclination to examine weaknesses and threats. Such an approach is advocated as part of the Disney Brainstorming approach with its three distinct phases

The Disney brainstorming technique

Phase

Description

The Dreamer

This phase is all about capturing ideas without constraint. No criticism or doubts are expressed at this stage

The Realist

This phase is not to shoot ideas down in flames. This is about exploring how the ideas collected during the “Dreamer” phase could be implemented. What would be necessary in order for them to work?

The output from this phase are ideas that have had some thought put into them and have a fairly well formed structure.

The Critic

This is where the ideas face their toughest challenge and are subject to the cynical glare of criticism. Ideas that survive this phase are worthy of being prioritised for execution.

The Disney technique works well because the “Dreamer” stage will generate a lot of ideas, some of which will be out-of-the-ordinary and ones that would not normally be expressed. Who is to say that, out of 15 ideas, idea number 14 wouldn’t be a winning idea that would revolutionise your business?  If you were to try and mix the three phases together what would happen is that you would get maybe half a dozen timid ideas. We would not reach double figures let alone express Idea 14.

There is an experiment you can do with your colleagues to demonstrate the power of the Disney technique. 

  1. Assemble your colleagues around a white board.
  2. Each colleague must take turns to draw an item representing a certain subject
  3. Each drawing must be different from the ones before but for the same subject
  4. Keep going until the person whose turn it is cannot think of an object or until 5 minutes have elapsed.

My team were given the subject of an apple. The first few iterations around the team produce ideas were simple evolutions on the original subject.

  • An apple
  • An apple with a bite taken out
  • An apple with two bites taken out
  • ...etc.  

At some point, probably through desperation, a team member would draw an oblong on the screen and sheepishly suggest “Apple iPad”. The adjudicator would simply nod and say keep going and from this point on it would be as if a dam had burst. The team felt they had been given permission to produce off the wall ideas. Someone drew a grandmother (Granny Smith apples), someone else drew an insect (The Beatles, Apple Corp). The variations came faster and faster.

I saw this scenario played out with several teams and although the subjects were different the results were remarkably similar. At roughly the same point the sheepish tangent would appear followed by a deluge of increasingly off-the-wall ideas. If we had to evaluate the drawings as they came in we would not have produced anywhere near the volume or variety.

Looking at Robert Sheldon’s series of “The SQL Server features that time forgot” how many of those features suffered a premature demise?  Do we retreat behind our moat, pull up the drawbridge and start heating the oil rather than engage, explore and develop the ideas?

Do we perform a sWoT analysis or a SWOT analysis?  Are we, as we would like to think, guardians of stability or, sadly, the champions of stagnancy?

 
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