Stop Keeping the Lights On, Part IV: How Organizational Anti-Patterns Lead to JKTLO

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Stop Keeping the Lights On, Part IV: How Organizational Anti-Patterns Lead to JKTLO

In his forth article on ''just keeping the lights on,'' Michael Dowden suggests how organizational anti-patterns contribute to JKTLO.

· Agile Zone ·
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This is the fourth article in my blog series. This series is intended to be read in order, so please start with the first article if you have not yet done so.

In this post for my series, I will continue to explore the causes of the JKTLO problem. This is a complex problem, and it is essential to devote enough time to thoroughly understand the causes.

In the previous blog post, I described the project anti-patterns that contribute to the JKTLO problem. Equally as destructive are organizational anti-patterns that create roadblocks to innovation. Organizational anti-patterns such as apathy, micromanagement, commoditization, and moral hazard prevent employees from developing and presenting new ideas. Management must be aware of these pitfalls and do everything they can to avoid them.


I experienced an extreme case of apathy while involved in a project with a number of junior developers who were hired to manually convert word documents to usable HTML. This was an incredibly painful and tedious process, and these new developers instantly searched for ways to automate and refine the process to minimize repetition and corresponding errors.

The new developers were hired to supplement the existing developers because the scope of work extended beyond what they could handle. Unlike the new developers, the existing developers had made no attempts to automate or improve the process.

Instead, they had spent the last eight years going through the same monotonous process over and over again.

For the existing developers, it was easier to continue pushing the same button than to question or look into changing the process. This is the result of low morale and a lack of empowerment in employees. For innovation to happen, management must make every effort possible to avoid apathy.


One cause of apathy in employees is micromanagement. When employees have poor communication with their managers and are not empowered to speak up, innovation stalls.

Employees must feel comfortable going to their managers when they recognize that something is not working well or when they see opportunities for improvements. Managers cannot feel that they alone will notice these things.


An anti-pattern that greatly affects JKTLO and reduces an IT department’s efficiency is commoditization.

A commodity is “a basic good used in commerce that is interchangeable with other commodities of the same type. The quality of a given commodity may differ slightly, but it is essentially uniform across producers.” - Investopedia

Applying this concept to developers would mean that they could be readily exchanged one for the other without negative consequences. This would then result in extreme flexibility in scheduling and assignments, in addition to a reduction in costs as salaries decrease due to lack of differentiation.

While commoditization of developers sounds great in theory, it is not so simple in reality — and, in fact, it can be very detrimental. Each developer has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and not recognizing this is a major oversight. Additionally, excessive interruptions and context switching can severely impact developers. No two developers are identical, and they should not be blindly treated as such. (Read more: The Myth of the Commodity Coder.)

Moral Hazard

While all of the above anti-patterns are dangerous enough are on their own, they are almost always worsened when decision makers are in positions of moral hazard.

Moral hazard is “a situation in which a party is more likely to take risks because the costs that could result will not be borne by the party taking the risk [snip].” (Wikipedia)

When individuals or institutions fail to accept the full consequences and responsibilities of their actions, they tend to act less carefully than they otherwise would, causing other parties to hold some responsibility for the results of those actions. This creates a low morale in the employees who shoulder the responsibility from others’ decisions and actions, as well as a lack of trust.

To eradicate moral hazard, decision makers should always be held accountable for the consequences of their decisions and be rewarded for correct decisions. (Read more: Moral Hazard At Play.)

The Impact

In general, management should be doing everything that they can to motivate and empower employees. They should trust employees and listen when they bring issues or chances for improvement to their attention. When employees do not feel comfortable doing so, innovation comes to a standstill, and employees begin just keeping the lights on.

agile ,career ,management ,software development

Published at DZone with permission of Michael Dowden , DZone MVB. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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