Tipping the Scales

Every organization needs procedures. What needs to happen when I file a bug? How do I notify clients that their feature is in production? Who do I bill this work to? All of these are simplified by procedure. Instead of having to figure out the issue and devise a solution every time the problem arises, procedures allow us to base our actions on past thought and designs.

Procedures can be good but they can also create more problems than they are worth. When procedures reach a point to where you are spending more time trying to find the right procedure than you would if you just figured out the problem from scratch, they are a burden.

A happy medium should be targeted. This middle ground should ultimately save time – otherwise it is a wasteful venture. If you have to spend long amounts of time searching for or through documents just to figure out what is supposed to happen then the system is a failure.

Next time you are going to add a procedure you should stop to ask yourself the following:

1. Does this solve a tough problem?
Does this procedure save people an inordinate amount of time or money? Does this procedure address an issue that is difficult to figure out on a case by case basis? If either of these are true then the procedure is likely to be a good addition.

2. Is this going to simplify things or add undue process?
Will people have to take a lot of extra steps just for the sake of procedure? If any part of the procedure is there just for the sake of it and doesn’t produce a tangible output then the overall process is diminished.

3. How easy will this be to remember?
If a procedure is hard to remember then people will need to look it up each time. This, by itself, doesn’t necessarily negate usefulness. However, if people have to look it up and it is tough to find then the process becomes much less useful and less likely to succeed.

4. How often is this likely to happen and what is the importance when it happens?
If the item in question rarely happens and/or doesn’t have a lot of value associated with it then there is likely not a need for detailed procedures. For example, declaring war doesn’t happen that often but has a high cost so a procedure is needed. Conversely, working showstoppers happens far more frequently but has a relatively low cost.

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Jason McDonald

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