What’s the Bus Factor?

I was on a webinar recently and someone mentioned the bus factor, which is a phrase I’d heard before, but not in a long time. Essentially this is the number of people, or maybe a certain specific group of people, who can get hit by a bus before your organization has serious issues.

Do you explicitly know who is important in your organization? I’m sure most executives think their personal factor is 1, meaning they can’t disappear without issues. I’m not sure I agree, though certainly we can’t lose all executives at once. In one small company I worked in, we never put more than two execs in a plane or car for a trip out of town, just in case something happened.

This week, I wonder what your bus factor is in technology. If you think about your projects, your applications and infrastructure, do you know who the critical people are and how many are needed to keep things going? Or could everyone quit and new hires would take over. In other words:

How many people can get hit by a bus before your org fails?

I think that in Redgate, we don’t have many people that are irreplaceable. We have four advocates, and while we have different strengths and abilities, we can fill in for each other. Likely our advocate factor is 4. We’d struggle slightly if all four of us left, though I think our sales engineers and some developers could fill in for us.

In development, we move people around regularly, and while they are valuable and great contributors, I think we could work around a large number of them leaving. I have no idea how many would cripple the company, but it would have to be a number much greater than 10.

It’s worth recognizing when you have people in critical positions that are hard to replace. Do you have a single COBOL programmer still keeping something going, or maybe just one long time employee that knows how the BizTalk server runs and no one else makes changes. Think about it today, and let us know if you think there are single points of failure in your organization.

Steve Jones

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3 Responses to What’s the Bus Factor?

  1. Brian K says:

    My company is pretty good, with one notable exception. There’s a SAP system where only one guy knows enough about it, and if anything goes wrong with it, people panic like crazy. And I think he knows it, he keeps trying to leave and they keep bringing him back. Even now he only works half days, while we are in the middle of lift-and-shifting it to Azure. We wonder aloud (sometimes VERY aloud) about the single point of failure situation, and yet I see no sign of that changing anytime soon. Very odd considering how redundancy is built-in everywhere else.


  2. way0utwest says:

    That does seem crazy that no one else knows how the system works. I doubt there’s a rational explanation that most people would be pleased with.


    • Brian K says:

      Agreed. Even with this migration they’re asking for documentation artifacts, and from my vantage point I can’t tell if there is any, but I’m pretty sure I know the answer.


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