Process debt and just getting stuff done

If I had just one observation to make about the biggest barrier to just getting stuff done it would be the build up of organisational process debt.  This process debt can take many forms and can have many responses from staff who have been beaten down by it.  I have seen this in varying degrees at different places and it isn’t just something unique to IT environments.

I’ll give you a couple of quotes I have heard on a number of occasions (original sources unknown) which I think address this quite well, but in different ways:

“The most expensive phrase someone can say in business, is that the reason why they do something in a certain way is because they have always done it that way”

Or even simpler:

“When all think alike, then no one is thinking”

I’m not suggesting that you always have to make a change to way you do something, but you at least need to understand at the very least WHY you are doing something in a particular way.  Challenge the assumptions.  Healthy debate should be encouraged.  BUT, don’t make it personal.  The facts should be able to tell the story and if you can relate things back to a dollar figure, that is the language that everyone speaks.

If no one understands or thinks about the reason why they are performing a certain action or process, then no one is applying their intelligence to the thing that they are doing.  This leads to people spending all of their time thinking about the process and not the outcome they are trying to achieve.  When this is happening, you’ve accumulated a process that is not achieving anything any longer and needs to be revisited.

The same theory needs to be applied to many things – processes, designs, the way in which we do things day-to-day.  Seek improvement, constantly.  If you find yourself saying that you can’t afford the time to think about changing things, then you’re already in the situation where you can’t afford to keep going on the same way that you are.

Now one thing I bang on about all of the time when talking about many aspects of an IT environment is distilling things back to what you’re trying to actually achieve.  Take a step back and look at what outcome it is that you’re trying to reach, that outcome will then be associated with multiple objectives that are being used to produce the desired outcome.

Stop talking about solutions.  Stop talking about mechanisms.  Until you understand the outcome it is that you’re trying to achieve, until you understand the objectives required to produce that outcome, talking about solutions and mechanisms mean that you do not understand what it is that you’re trying to achieve.

To me this is the only way you’ll realise which aspects and processes within your environment are valuable and which ones are getting in the way of getting things done.  Take a step back, so that you can take multiple steps forward.

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