Why Isn’t “The Process” Followed?

“We have a ticketing process for all of these things. Anything you do needs to go through that.”

The assumption is that, by going through a proper ticketing process, every request will be funneled through some sort of prioritizing and that that will minimize disruption.

Imagined scenario–total support/development time, 30 minutes:

  • Person needing a change to something files a ticket.
  • Magical “prioritization” takes place.
  • Technical worker executes in perfect order from off the queue.

Real attempt at following the process, 2 days:

  • Person needing a change contacts a random technical person.
  • Some effort to redirect or funnel through ticketing process is made.
  • Urgency communicated.
  • Another manager included on email chain, all the while missing managers who also need to be involved.
  • Random forwarding of emails to managers who also need to be involved.
  • Restart of the story from the beginning.
  • Someone else is left out of the loop.
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • Something blows up in production and things have to be reset to where they were before.
  • Crisis averted.
  • Technical person tries to remember where they left off.
  • Technical person spends time reorienting to the original task.
  • .
  • .
  • Technical person takes care of what should have been a 30 minute task in the first place.


People in Hell Want Ice Water

It is a known fact that employees don’t know what they want. They say they want ice machines to work, but they really want all the vending machines to be replaced with a brand new vending service that provides freshly prepared (sort of) items that you can purchase for grocery deli prices without leaving the building—because employees hate leaving the building and stuff.

So whenever an employee provides feedback, either anonymously or openly, they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Employees really want open office plans, fancy break rooms, and whimsical methods of celebrating what the hell they supposed to do anyway.

What PR vs. Management vs. the Front Line Worker says

Inevitably, in a large organization, front line workers’ pressure to perform and/or apathy results in a public relations nightmare.

What PR Says:

  • Our values are above such behavior.
  • Our employees have a much higher standards than this behavior.
  • Such behavior is repugnant to all of our employees.
  • These is a rare bad apple that will be sought out and dealt with.

What Management Says:

  • We have goals to hit.
  • You are prohibited from doing the 1,002 things on this list.
  • To prevent you from doing the above 1,002 things, you must follow these 37 procedures for everything you do.
  • If anyone screws up due to being in a rush, we will add an extra 4 hours of annual training on this and add it to the mandatory weekly meeting agenda.

What the Front Line Worker Says:

  • You pay me a fixed or minimum wage. As Chris Rock said, if you could pay me less, you would.
  • You cap my pay at a wage that prevents anyone competent enough to do a good job from actually staying around to do it.
  • In your interest in getting rid of a worthless employee that you didn’t have the guts to deal with individually, you also fired two workers who knew what they were doing.
  • Breaking the rules as a last resort becomes a more common occurrence with every layer of ass-covering bureaucracy you add and every shred of competence you take away.
  • The only way you’d last one *shift* in the field is if you hid in the manager’s office for the duration.
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Time Bullshitting

Are you in charge of budgeting and/or balance sheet management?

Has the thought ever occurred to you, that if your knowledge workers just tracked the time they spent on projects, you could capitalize projects and get a better feel for return on investment?

Well, stop.

The primary things that disrupt my “working” activities are anything related to entering my time on a timesheet.

I bitch about the time spent entering my time.

I bitch about the 100 project codes I have to choose from. I doubt you have any clue how any of these projects remotely affect the bottom line.

I bitch about the fact that I have to find a 5 year old Windows machine with only IE 6/Flash/etc. installed on it because Gates forbid you ever purchase a solution that runs on a modern machine, doesn’t look like malware, and wasn’t written by the dropout nephews of a bunch of CEOs.

I bitch about the subclassification of every one of these project codes. How can you figure out what the “work type” means when we’ve established that you don’t know how the project itself hurt…  I mean helps the company’s bottom line. What’s the “work type” for “that website that I need for my work is blocked because our web filtering software classifies it as a ‘personal blog'”?

Ultimately, I bitch about the fact that there’s no relation between what I actually do for a job, how much time I spent doing it and what I enter on the timesheet.

The “I don’t want to risk taking action” Blockade

Iceberg floating in Lago Argentina broken off ...
Image via Wikipedia

Apparently, conventional wisdom has decided that if you don’t take action, you can’t be blamed for anything:

Sure, you’re about to hit an iceberg. However, if you try to steer the ship, and it ruptures, you’ll be at fault. If you hit the iceberg head on and your ship withstands the hit, you’ll have warded off disaster. If your ship starts going down, well, you can possibly pretend you were unaware of the problem. If you take action, you have to acknowledge the problem.

Why must departmental silos treat problems like toothaches: Because there’s a fear of going to the dentist, everyone waits until the tooth abscesses and a trip to the emergency room and an emergency extraction is needed. A little infection or cavity turned into a week-long course of top-tier antibiotics and a missing tooth.

Maybe everyone’s hoping they’ll be laid off before having to take responsibility for a problem.  After all, being laid off assumes far less personal responsibility than possibly failing when attempting a fix.

Let’s all be powerless.

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Shock and Horror: A Bureaucracy Protecting Itself

The Sensational Side

Administrative burden in Bucharest (Rumania)
Image via Wikipedia

Insert news headline: Large bureaucratic organization covers up misdeeds of members to protect itself from admitting that there are anything but benevolent forces within the organization.

Churches, non-profits, government organizations, and large corporations all suffer from this disease that bureaucracy brings.  On a few occasions, the ultimate consumption of the disease is some major cover-up of criminal activity of some sort.

The Chronic Debilitating Disease

The sensational headlines distract from the underlying problem, by making people declare that the purpose of the organization: religious, governmental, business, etc… is inherently evil. Unfortunately, the evil is one that increasingly applies to all organizations as they get larger: The bureaucracy is a self-feeding organism.

Bureaucracies often create problems for which they cannot produce solutions. If the best solution involves tearing down parts of the bureaucracy, then the bureaucracy will do its best to defeat that solution. Consequently, the only problem that survives is a poor bandage solution that, ironically, creates more bureaucracy.

The Ultimate Symbol of a Runaway Bureaucracy:  The Status Meeting


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Forget that Emergency! Fill Out This Form in Triplicate

Imagine this scenario: You’re in an emergency room in a hospital, gushing blood and being treated by the staff. All of a sudden, the person in charge of scheduling compliance training comes around and demands everyone stop what they’re doing and verify that they’ve signed up for the latest patient privacy compliance training seminars.

Some things in the workplace are high priority items. Routine “emergencies” are often poorly planned high priority items. Parts of the process are medium-high priority–they need to be followed as habit, but usually a single miss won’t bring the entire business to its knees.

Paying your taxes on time and filling out compliance paperwork and public filings is generally of a critical priority. If you fail to do so in a timely manner, the government or your investors will take your business down. Aside from a scenario like this, where having your business burn down or having the government take it down is a toss-up, immediate business calamity takes top priority over any business “process”.

Don’t stomp your foot because your highly important process isn’t being followed when the building is burning down. You may be the last to be rescued.

Diseconomy of Scale

From Wikipedia: Diseconomy of Scale (The article has the “original research” warning, and therefore, should be taken with more of a grain of salt than even the average Wikipedia article.

Diseconomies of scale are the forces that cause larger firms and governments to produce goods and services at increased per-unit costs. They are less well known than what economists have long understood as “economies of scale”, the forces which enable larger firms to produce goods and services at reduced per-unit costs. The concept may be applied to non-market entities as well. Some political philosophies, such as libertarianism, recognize the concept as applying to government.

There are obvious efficiencies that come with increased size: The per-worker overhead of a leased office for two people can be slightly more than half that of an office for one person. Meanwhile, two people can potentially accomplish at least double what person can do.

Moreover, there is a certain minimum size below which certain tasks are not feasible. One million individuals working alone would likely not be able to create a practical system of roadways going from Atlantic to Pacific coasts. Some things require big scale to make them happen.

Unfortunately, there is a point where the additional costs incurred by adding additional resources [see Handshake Problem] are greater than the additional savings gained by sharing the resources with one more person.

The scale problem illustrated with keeping track of organizational “to-do” lists:

  • 1 person – might be forced to write things down on a scrap of paper to keep things organized.
  • 2 people – leave post-it notes.
  • 5-10 people – use team to-do list software.
  • 10-30 people – may use more sophisticated, “issue-tracking” software.
  • 30-100 people – may use a more generic activity management software
  • 100+ people – have to be certified to be on the use of standardized language and procedures so that activities may be managed in the most effective way possible.

The last step in the chain here are procedures for dealing with procedures to track tasks.  That’s a virtual calculus of bureaucracy. Considering how few people are any good at the mathematical calculus, which deals which actual numbers and formulas, I would imagine that bureaucratic calculus is nearly impossible.

Bookmarks… Rules as a reaction to failure

Great thoughts on how bureaucracy begins:

However, lets not forget the other side of the equation:

  • Hyperactive attorneys [hot liquid warnings on coffee cups]
  • Hyperactive congress [regulations on how long business records, email, etc. have to be held]
  • Overreaction to 1 in a million accidents, i.e., not respecting the statistical risk of getting killed by a falling satellite vs. the risk of being hit by a car while on your motorcycle.

However, in general, humans just prefer to apply very general solutions to very specific problems.


Length of Interruption is not Proportional to Amount of Disruption

This topic has been covered here before: Just because something requires very little time on its own does not mean it disrupts less. Any activity that takes “only a small amount of time” is likely to be accompanied by many other ones that carry the same justification for their existence.

Justifying that something should be done because it takes an insignificant amount of time is the same as saying that a 0.02% increase in your property tax should not concern you. The individual amount may be insignificant, but after years of property tax increases, you may end up with 1 or 2% extra in taxes.  More importantly, every additional request will carry the extra guilt trip of having accepted increases before and may embolden further, possibly larger requests.

Cognitive disruption

Deep thought tasks require deep concentration–see Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.  You can’t do deep analysis or intense tasks if you have 30 minutes between meetings.

Meetings are only one such offender.  Logging your time by work code and customer, and filling out three pages of forms upon beginning or ending a task are other such offenders.  Let’s say that you were reading an unabridged copy (1488 pages) of Les Misérables (Signet Classics), and every 10th page, read a page of A Tale of Two Cities (free Kindle Edition). You’re going to get the details of the characters confused because the settings are so similar.

This example may seem extreme, but in reality, is this not what all of this extra tasks are doing? You record time about a project. You send an email about a project. You open some form and fill out information about the project. At some point you may actually do work on the project. At this point, you’re going to have to start a spreadsheet to keep track of your tasks and what necessary steps you’ve done as part of completing a task. Fortunately, you can at least create some sort of calculated field to turn the task green, yellow, or red, based on whether the task is complete, partially complete, or not started. That should save you the mental energy of determining whether a task is actually complete–so at least you have that going for you.