When following process is wrong

I was watching 'Office Space' yesterday. For those of you who don't know it, Office Space is a cult movie from the guy who brought you "Beavis and Butthead" - but don't let that put you off! It's a satirical look at office politics, management and employee dissatisfaction - sort of a real life 'Dilbert'.

The reason I bring this up is because of an incident that occurs in the opening 5 minutes of the movie. Peter - the 'hero' arrives at work and is confronted by his boss. The boss is a typical 1990's senior manager - red braces, blue shirt with white cuffs and collars, and a pot of coffee perpetually to hand. Every conversation starts as follows 'So, what's happening? Aahh, now, I'm going to need you to go ahead and......'.

The reason I mention this is because the first exchange in the movie refers to some mysterious 'TPS Reports'. The boss wants to know why Peter didn't put the new style cover sheet on the TPS Reports. Peter said he forgot. The boss wants to know if he got the memo. Peter said he did, he just forgot but the problem has been sorted out already. The boss says "I'm going to go ahead and make sure you get another copy of the memo".

Moments later another of Peter's bosses (he has 8) passes by and has a similar conversation. "Didn't you get the memo?". Etc. . . . .

So what has this got to do with process?

Well, very simply it's a case where the process is broken and doesn't need to be followed. Let me explain. At no point in the discussion is anyone concerned about whether the TPS reports are accurate (or even if they have been produced to the correct standard), all everyone is concerned about is the fact that one guy didn't put the correct cover page on the report. The process probably says something along the lines of 'Add a cover page according to the defined format'. As such you would imagine that following the process would be paramount to someone like me, a business process consultant. But in this case I would say that the process is wrong. Or more to the point, the focus of the process is wrong. Having two guys approach you to tell you that you didn't put the correct cover sheet on a report is focusing on the wrong thing.

The flip side of this, of course, is that the cover sheet may be an integral part of the process which allows later stages of the process to work appropriately. It may contain, for example, a routing slip for the report, or a quality approval signature. In this case putting the wrong cover on the report would be important.

But this is where common sense needs to take over. The implication from the initial discussion is that there has been a 'new' cover sheet for the TPS reports. The old one has been superceded. But what was wrong with the old one? Why was the change made? Was it crucial to the process that the cover page was changed? If it was then it is important that the process is followed.

Otherwise: 'Meh' (As the venacular goes nowadays)

Are you focusing on the wrong parts of your process?

(Photo courtesy of St3ve)

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