Process, Process, Process   Leave a comment

Interestingly, both of my sisters wrote blog posts in the last two days talking about the same thing.  Both are funny anecdotes, but that’s not the point.

Every person does a million things every day.  With very few exceptions, most of these things follow some sort of process.  Sometimes the processes make sense, when observed objectively, and sometimes they don’t.  Processes can develop by habit, by inclination, via natural selection, and only very rarely by planning.

Think about the story that Megan is describing in her post.  If you’re a security nut like me, you have to take off your infosec hat to get past the horrible horribleness of what she’s describing (from a security standpoint, everything about this story makes me go “yuck, yuck, ick, ewwww, bad!”).  The story illustrates very well what happens when a planned process runs up against one that is designed by natural selection.  The planned process belongs to the website; they force password expiration (good!) but they do it in a way designed to minimize impact on their customers – instead of having a hard expiration, they have a soft expiration (somewhat less good).  This is built off of a number of assumptions of the designers of the web site.  Now look at the process on the other side -> some large set of employees has access to this account.  At some arbitrary point one of those employees is required to change this password.  So far, so good.  Said employee changes the password (as required by the web site) and informs the Administrator that the password has been changed.  Still, so far so good.  However, there is a time delay between when the password has been changed and when the change is registered and published.  Normally, this is perfectly fine.  Who cares?  If nobody accesses this web site except once every six months or so, this is hardly a big deal, right?  In this particular case, though, The Head Honcho tries the password that is expected to work, and it doesn’t.

Now the weakness of the natural selection process is illustrated in all its glory.  The Head Honcho (like most bosses) doesn’t like change.  Particularly undocumented change.  By God, someone has BROKEN THE PROCESS, and must pay!  The process isn’t broken, it’s working exactly the way it is supposed to – it only adapts to change *when something goes wrong*.  So, everyone runs around looking for someone to blame to appease The Honcho, they assign blame, and they make the employee promise never to change the password again.

Except nobody has thought this through (people normally don’t with organic processes).  They don’t have the option to limit the ability of the employee to change the password.  Perhaps this one employee, sure, but that doesn’t mean that someone else won’t do it later.  Even if they do manage to get everyone to follow the new rule, this means that there is a glaring new weakness in the process -> the next time the password needs to be changed, nobody can do anything until the Administrator changes the password and publishes it to the rest of the company.  It might take a while for this weakness to crop up, and it may take longer for it to crop up in a way that disturbs The Head Honcho.  Sooner or later, though, someone else is going to get yelled at for trying to get their job done.

There are several right ways to solve this problem from a process standpoint.  One, get everyone their own account on this web site.  That probably won’t happen for any number of reasons.  If that’s not practical, give everyone that has the ability to use the web site the ability to change the magic password excel sheet.  That probably won’t happen because the Administrator will freak out if they have to delegate that responsibility.  If you’re not going to make one of those two changes, though, it’s the job of the managers to go back to The Honcho and say, “This will happen again, don’t freak out and yell at another innocent employee.  We can’t fix this to prevent it from happening again.”  If you can’t (or won’t) adapt your business process to match an external process that you can’t change, you’re not managing anything.

On to Ann’s story.

She’s lucky; for the most part she has complete control over how the kitchen is laid out.  Not so in my house; my wife and I both cook, and we both have ideas about where things should be, and unless we get about a half-million dollar windfall when we move up to our next house we’re going to have to compromise.  Kitty is like Ann; she has things where things have always been, by habit and/or by inclination.  I’m a process nut, I want things to be where they ought to be to maximize the tasks that need to be performed in a kitchen.  Every time I go to get (very few) certain things in the kitchen, I have to mentally grit my teeth, because they ought not to be there, they ought to be here.  Of course, I have to admit that my idea of “ought” isn’t universal.  I have NADD, for one thing, and I don’t have a Cave, so my outlets are significantly stifled at this point.  But even when I compensate for that, the God’s honest truth is that Kitty wants some things to be some place because that’s where she wants them to be (due to habit or inclination), and she really doesn’t care about whether or not that is going to affect her day by a microsecond or two when she’s in the kitchen.

I can’t say that’s wrong, certainly, and I love my wife dearly.  It’s no great sacrifice to have a section of the cupboard dedicated to 50 different assortments of tea.  Not to mention the fact that while Dave is right, (Routine leads to Ritual leads to Religion), the flip side of that is that constantly managing your routine obsessively can lead to a spiral descent into obsessive-compulsive disorder, so sometimes it’s a good idea not to optimize every last damn thing.

But I have a challenge for you, Ann.  Next time you move, instead of putting things where you think they ought to go by instinct, try to arrange your kitchen entirely by task.  You do it already [you have to, ’cause you’re short – editor’s dig] but build your kitchen from the ground all the way up, instead of starting where Dad puts things.

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Posted November 15, 2007 by padraic2112 in humor, management

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