Builder and Maintainer: Pitfalls of Handing Off The Baton

If you make statements like: “I’d lose interest in simply keeping things moving. I’d get bored.” You’re a builder.

Alternatively, perhaps you don’t enjoy “that level of risk.” You desire to work in an established company or team with plenty of structure, doing something a tad safer — there’s nothing wrong with this — you’re a maintainer. 

It is a spectrum — few people are on either extreme, with most everyone being somewhere closer toward the middle. The point is not to put people in boxes, but employ a mental model to help us through obstacles and challenges. Risk-taking/risk-aversion is not the single contributing factor; risk, creativity, personal desires, ability to invest time, money, or other resources also factor in.

That said, for builders, I’ve noticed a trend when handing off the baton. They build like they’re handing it off to another builder. 

It goes back to the mental model. If a builder creates and passes off the package or responsibility, does the person receiving that package have the desire and know-how to keep it going at that rate?

Let’s say you build a Sales team. You develop the processes, implement all the systems, and establish the reporting. Moreover, for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s rock-solid. Then, let’s say you pass it off as you want to pursue something new. You find a maintainer, hire him or her, and pass the baton off. You’ve succeeded, right? Maybe.

At this stage, two ingredients could spoil the handoff:

  1. The builder has all the institutional knowledge, and
  2. Training and equipping is significantly underrated as a core component

Let’s address these as a potential curse.

Creator’s Curse

It’s entirely possible (and happens every day!) that someone other than the builder can approach a broken system, triage it, and get it operational. Many clever people can approach something they’ve never seen before and understand it. It can be done, but it’s not easy.

When building, keep in mind you’ll likely be handing it off. During the planning process, think about the following criteria:

  1. Simplicity over “innovative.” If you know you will pass it off, make it simple and straightforward. Complexity is the driver of dysfunction. You may understand all the complex interwoven components, but will the majority see it that way?
  2. Documentation. You will (likely? hopefully?) document your processes a lot better. After all, who wants another person to see their messy room? Some documentation is likely better than none at all. So, at a minimum, get started early. Documentation is often seen as drudgery because it’s thought of and written as something to be stored in on a shelf, never to be read, never to be appreciated.
  3. Think things through. It’s one thing to slap together a prototype. It’s another to realize that this will be a serious investment. Building a skyscraper takes a concerted effort with immense planning. Your project will be smaller, though still requires planning ahead. It’s easy to build quickly, but you’re not just building your project; you’re also building technical debt. Even with the best of planning, you’ll procure technical debt. Choose to make it manageable. 
  4. Training. You may have thorough documentation. However, what does training look like? If you know the person, what’s the best way they learn? If you were suddenly gone, could they look at it, read/watch your training, and then execute? If so, how quickly and effectively could they take over?
  5. Coaching and development. Is it possible for you to coach and develop that person to understand the way you think, the way you design systems? Develop people to grasp how it functions.

Builder’s Blessing

Lest we ignore the other side of the coin, there is a blessing hidden within.
As a builder, you have an amazing ability: the courage to create when the status quo offers you a form of stability. Without you, the world would not have as many amazing tools, inventions, and ways of living that we have now. We must celebrate that!

So build — absolutely build. You bring incredible worth to this world. To leave a legacy you’ll be proud of, take heed of the warnings: watch out for the pitfalls and navigate the trouble spots, all to build that incredible thing in your head. Make this world a better place.

Published by Jeff Beaumont

I love helping companies scale and grow their organizations to delight customers and employees, enabling healthy teams, fast growth, and fewer headaches. Scaling quickly is wrought with potholes and plot twists. When you’re running a company, losing customers, and employees are on their way out, and don’t have your systems running smoothly, then you’ll be at your wits' end. I've been there and hate it.

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