Posts Taged single-point-of-failure

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week One :: People :: Critical Path

List three people whose absence, if they quit or were unable to work, would have significant operational impact on the business.

  1. _______________________________________
  2. _______________________________________
  3. _______________________________________


For each of those people, identify the operational impact.

  1. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  2. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  3. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________

On the graph below, plot the three people listed above based on their probability of leaving and the risk to the organization if they were to leave.

Presumably, if they made it into this exercise, they’re going to land in the top half of the graph – i.e. their departure poses a risk to the organization. There are two situations that could make a departure particularly perilous –

  • The employee is a critical path component in your company’s delivery of products or services – i.e. if this employee was gone, your ability to generate revenue would be crippled. Depending on the length of the absence and the depth of this employee’s involvement in critical path activities, this could put the entire enterprise at risk.
  • The employee is a single point of failure – i.e. this employee is the only one who possesses a particular skill or a particular body of knowledge.


In either of these situations, the urgency for addressing a departure ratchets up significantly. For this exercise, the action items below assume the only variable is the employee’s decision to stay or go. However, no person or company is exempt from unplanned events. That being the case, addressing these Critical Path employee issues is always urgent even if the current employee(s) is the most loyal and dependable in the organization.

For all the employees in this exercise (on both sides of the vertical axis), create the list below.

Employee Most Critical Skill Successor Percent Ready
Mary Set up new vendor Hannah 50
Bob Enter new orders Alice 20
Mary Do Payroll Steve 0
Tim Update Admin Settings in CRM Sarah 80

It’s possible, maybe even desirable, that a single employee will be listed more than once. If they have more than one critical path skill or single point of failure capability, you might want to split those skills and capabilities among multiple successors thereby eliminating the single point of failure. List the successors and their percent of readiness.

Create an action plan for each successor to make them proficient in the critical path responsibilities. The plan should include –

  • Knowledge to acquire
  • Skills to master
  • Experience to accumulate
  • Relationships necessary for execution and support


Assign mentors for each activity (it might be someone besides the current employee), establish milestones and set target completion dates. Check in with the mentors and successors to ensure that skills transfer is taking place.

If you have no one in the organization who could successfully execute the work of these critical path employees, start the process of recruiting, hiring and onboarding suitable successors. In addition to your normal regimen of finding new employees with shared values and cultural fit, add the skills required for these tasks to the job requirements.

Finally, for those employees who plot to the right of the vertical axis (high risk to the organization and likely to leave), move quickly to mitigate the risk. What can you do to keep them in the organization until you’ve identified and trained a successor? If they are seeking greater challenges, can you assign them more interesting work while they identify and train their own successor? Given the critical nature of the activities it might be unlikely, but can you identify a vendor, contractor or consultant who could step in if the employee’s departure put the business at risk?

Finally a bit of homework (definitely more than the 30 minute exercise). Document the work of every critical path employee. Create documentation that details –

  • The “why” behind each of their activities
  • The people they interact with to accomplish the activities – vendors, customers, peers, supervisors and subordinates
  • The systems they use (including usernames and passwords)
  • The data they enter into those systems
  • Any equipment they use to perform the work
  • Who they call if that equipment malfunctions
  • Any materials they use to perform the work
  • Where they obtain replacement materials
  • Any reports they use to inform their work
  • Any notifications they make prior to, during or after the work
  • And finally, complete, step-by-step instructions for the work itself

If successors are not on board when you start this documentation process, you might have to do it yourself to make sure it’s complete and easy to follow.

If you have questions on this week’s challenge, contact me at 816-509-9838 or

Use the comments section below to benefit other business owners and managers by sharing insights you gained by working on this week’s challenge.