Process kills!

I have had the opportunity to observe a certain large American corporation revising it’s internal IT processes, i.e. how the work gets done, since the early this year. Where the amount of bureaucracy was staggering before the institution of the new processes, the amount pales by comparison to the “new” way of doing things.

Before the changes it was possible for people from one team to call or email people in another, and ask for help/advice with their projects. If the request didn’t require so much time as to interfere with the ongoing project schedules people generally helped each other spontaneously. Often such requests took few minutes to complete, frequently saving the person who was making the request tremendous amount of time.

With the new system in place all that is history. Now nothing gets done without a pre-approval, a process that rarely takes less than a week, often more. The business culture changed (to the worse) virtually overnight. Of course the goal of such strict control was to enable the management to better determine where people spend their time, and direct the time to those tasks that they deem most important. But at what cost? People who still few months ago would gladly help others upon request no longer do so. The (micro) management surely has increased, and the mangement definitely has more information about what people do with their time. But has the productivity and efficiency improved as a result? I much doubt it. The situation is akin to the socialist countries who tax their citizens heavily and then determine, among other things, how/where even the charitable donations are made. Yes, donations get made (the citizens have no other choice since they pay the taxes), but at the same time such practice teaches the individuals not to make such donations voluntarily, because they want to help those in need. Similarly in this large American corporation (which by no means is the only example of such practices, just read “Dilbert”, or watch “The Office Space”—the jokes and references are quite universal) the individual employees are quickly taught not to facilitate smooth operation of the business as the process comes first.

The influence on the business efficiency is just the first casualty (though the most important one) of the poorly thought-out and excessive business processes. People, litereally thousands upon thousands of people in a single organization, spend countless hours—thousands of work-days—learning the new system which will enable them to expand a formerly five minute process into a week of paperwork, reviews, consultations, approvals, etc.

Maybe I just lack the bird’s eye view that would enable me to see the logic in such processes being put forth, but I suspect it’s more likely that the people who instantiate such processes simply lack the common sense, and the courage to move from the industrial age management practices to the era of Knowledge Workers (whom 99% of IT personnell is).