Emerging Tech

Respect the processes you put into place


Pardon me if I am on a bit of a rant today, but I am fuming over being the victim in a situation I will call “disrespecting the process.” Since I just coined the phrase, let me define it for you. Disrespecting the process is a situation in which a person (or persons) in a position of authority creates procedures that must be abided by, insists that they are part of the standard process, and then goes about ignoring them or making it next to impossible for subordinates to follow them.

For example, a manager might insist that he or she authorizes every decision made by his or her subordinates, yet can never find the time to do so, thus, creating a backlog in decision making, frustrating subordinates who are actually trying to perform their jobs, and irritating the clients/customers they are trying to serve.

More importantly, every time the authority figure disrespects the processes put into place, the more that person’s credibility with subordinates is damaged. This effect is magnified the further up the authority figure is in the organization. Disrespecting the process is bad for morale and sends the wrong message to employees: that they are insignificant and that their work is not meaningful or appreciated.

Being an employee in the situation above creates a kind of double standard for management and those who report to them. For example, every time a police officer blows past your vehicle in his cruiser on the highway – and it is clear that they are not on duty (like when they have their whole family in the car) — you have to stop and wonder if speeding laws only apply to non-police officers. That kind of behavior frustrates the general public. The difference, though, between this example and the one above is that the police officer is not preventing you from doing the speed limit — but the manager is preventing the employee from getting his or her work accomplished.

As managers, it is important to remember that our purpose for being is to make processes work more smoothly and to ensure that employees are doing the right things in the right way. We are not there to impede people trying to get their jobs done.

Please don’t construe this as a suggestion that you cannot set rules, processes, or policies and procedures. I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that if you are in a position to create procedures and you make yourself pivotal to their accomplishment, then you had better make yourself available to do your part in making those procedures work for everyone else.

I am harping on management in this little diatribe because generally they are the rule setters in the organization. However, other people can become road blocks, and it is the manager’s duty to nip this in the bud when they see it and let their people know they will not tolerate it.

Again, let me illustrate with an example. I was once with an organization that insisted that their DBAs approve every database schema created by developers or any change in “approved” schemas as they were developing their applications. As far as rules and processes go, I can live with this and actually can see some benefit to this approach, assuming it is implemented properly.

However, as a project manager in this environment, I found it extremely frustrating that my developers could not hit any of their project deadlines because the DBAs could not handle the volume of work that went along with this process. My breaking point came when it took six weeks to get two columns added to a table. I was already under pressure because I had been brought in to get a project back on schedule that was already months behind, and it became crystal clear to me at this point as to why.

I spoke to the PMO regarding the issue and got the standard “that’s the way things are done around here” answer. My solution — I revised my project estimates to incorporate the DBAs lack of attention and suddenly my project ballooned in both price and duration. THIS seemed to get management’s attention. Fortunately for my development group and my project, we were allowed to bring in a contract DBA that was assigned specifically to us, and we were able to work outside the boundaries of the “procedure.“

Unfortunately for the organization, management did not see that their well-intentioned approach was poorly implemented and did nothing to resolve the situation for the organization as a whole.

The example above is probably more common in most workplaces than my original example, but in both cases, it is management’s responsibility to recognize they have created a dysfunctional situation that needs to be remedied.

Being a manager is never easy and often is a balancing act between trying to do all the right things and having the resources to do them. In these cases, one must remember that sometimes the best thing to do is to stand firm regarding the practices you put into place, and at other times the best thing you can do is to shut up and get out of the way. The best managers know when to do both.

9 comments
evalynne
evalynne

When I first began a career in this industry, it was motivated in part by my desire to leave behind the drama of juvenile probation, my first career attempt after college. I wasn't keen to the corporate rules, as they were. Politics and drama were the *last* things I thought I would encounter in what I believed surely was populated by the most logical and reasonable (albeit, if not a wee self-aggrandized, at times) of professional people. The education has been most illuminating, to say the least. Personally, I have witnessed in my 8 or 9 years as a build & release engineer and manager more drama and 11th hour shenanigans than anyone would believe (except those subversives that love to create diversions 11:59 p.m. the day before a final production release ;-). The proverbial cake was taken, I have to say, when I found myself realizing that the company I worked for, the company that created a product intended to serve a precise role in a specific process of development that also just happened to be my role for the company, as well, was being subverted by none other than the guy who made the product to begin with! He liked to wear a lot of hats. CEO, developer, changer of lightbulbs, Sysadmin, etc. When the developer hat came on, he lived by his own rules. (His party, right?) Try to implement a process when the guy who cuts the checks is playing cowboy this week and next week he's asking *your* manager what the heck happened to the process that no one was paying any attention to. Talk about feeling like a mushroom! Well, to make an already too long post not too much longer, suffice it to say that ultimately, I realized this was not a fight I could win and I wish I hadn't been so naive about the actual politics that I would come to find surround these things (managers and executives who screw up and then pass the responsibility for it down the food chain). Being a manager is a position of authority (first-line managers all the way up the totem pole). At some level, there is a responsibility to what has been entrusted to our care and to abuse that power or to neglect the responsibility we have towards the organization, our staff and ultimately, our customers, creates an atmosphere of mistrust and sometimes can ruin a person's career, if not at least their day. So, I've considered (not too seriously, mind you) going back to juvenile probation. I find that crowd to be a bit more transparent than the one that on the outside looks solid, stoic, and rational and on the inside is just as human as anyone else but spend their entire day perfecting the art of pretending otherwise and finding it convenient to abuse their positions and not follow the same rules required of everyone else or fail to model what supports the processes in the entire system. (Sorry for the length, there, folks. I guess your rant spoke to the rant in me :-)) P.s. Illustrative to the drama mentioned, in my years with the probation department I never had anyone (let alone a brilliant, engineer and otherwise expressionless matter of fact gear-head) lose their mind in my office and lead me to believe my neck was about to become uncomfortably constricted, nor had I ever witnessed a senior manager put their head down on my desk and cry while I was trying to put fires out during a chaotic roll-back, or see two or more grown men throw fits and storm out of the building like petulant little girls that needed to go home and take a nap before coming back to play with the others. No, just some bad language and the occasional escape attempt or need for a physical take-down--much less taxing on the blood pressure.

karl.hewlett
karl.hewlett

I totally agree with the sentiments. In addition I beleive every org should promote the following of process and also a means to fix broken/obsolete/etc processes. The person who experiences the break should be able to raise it to someone who can and will fix it. In my experience lower level staff who care will try to do what they see as their job - even if the org doesn't allow it. This leads to people who cannot change processes instead working around them.

bat511
bat511

While reading this I was torn between laughter and bitter tears. I have to laugh that others fell my pain, and that drives me to tears: How do you know my manager so thoroughly? Where can I go if the whole world is full of Dilbert?s bosses? That this article was even written shows that fall of Management as a whole. My manager stated to us that if he told us to mop the floors, we should grab a mop. Don?t remember that in my job description. So after wiping my face dry I looked into our ticket queue, and all the tickets, ALL, are in his name. Over half of them are out of SLA and here we sit waiting for him to?? Condolences to all who can relate to this.

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

Since there is little to no backbone( penalty ) for not following process, I get hit with this a lot. Most recently, I got a word of mouth request from my manager's manager to create weekly reports that show how the department is performing. That's it. End of the requirements. In the meantime, I was in the middle of migrating the Enterprise to a new scheduling application ( CA Autosys ), doing development, testing, and final QA on several Java applications that I had been working on for months, and of course, the normal duties such as administrating my applications, taking care of account requests, outages, training, and implementing new features of these Enterprise applications, which are projects in themselves. So, with all of these approved projects, where people followed process by submitting Functional Requirements, Business requirements, etc and getting the required signature, my boss's boss just cuts in line with a request for something I have not done before. In fact, there is a dedicated reporting team where all they do is exactly what was requested. They have a million dollars worth of software and hardware for doing ETL and reporting( informatica,teradata, and hyperion, to be exact ). On the other hand, I have none of that available to me. Nothing at all. So, I point this out, but then discover that the reason I am being directed to create these reports is to bypass the paperwork/process required to have the reports created by the team. So, basically I am stuck. I was directed to not work on any other projects until I go about creating my own ETL, data storage, and reporting solutions. While expensive professional services reps and consultants who need me to complete their projects all get put on hold. To put it in perspective, this guy puts Enterprise projects on hold in order to get a set of reports he presents once a week that make him look good. See the motive? Any suggestions as to what I can do? I continuously remind both levels of management that a million dollars are going to waste by having me do this work, plus the delays caused to all of the other projects I had to put on hold. Btw, I have put in for an internal transfer. I'm a Java Developer after all, not a report monkey. If you have any ideas as to how I can derail this problem feel free to shoot them over. I am demanding that this be made into a project, even though I have to do the paperwork... And just to clarify, the data sources are applications that have a variety of formats, some standard ( like Oracle DB ), and some unknown( i.e. proprietary, and I don't even know if the data is accessible yet).

steven.auerbach
steven.auerbach

As managers we want cost information before approving a project, a purchase, a hire, you name it. Opportunity Cost, Return On Investment, Cost Of Doing Business; call it what you will. We expect the information from subordinates, we invest our time in determining it for superiors. And then we forget to look at it when we establish an operating policy or procedure. As we focus on dollars we fail to listen for the tick-tocking of our most finite resource. Revenues grow and shrink, budgets expand and contract, staffs increase and decrease. But effective time for action will never grow beyond the 24 hours of a day. We can borrow time from family, sleep, and avocation to the benefit of the job; but only so much for so long. It is a difficult challenge to find the balance among the processes that demand accountability.

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

This article covers one of my pet peeves. Process groups who do not follow their own processes. It seems that the process groups do not need to follow all of the decision making processes, requirements processes, documentation processes, change control processes, etc. that they foist onto each and every project.

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

That makes sense. Often the low level staff will push back once or twice when directed to do things with no regard to how the process is defined. e.g. This new promotion is going live tomorrow, and we need to have set up alerting if the service fails/is degraded. Oh, we've been working on it for a year and just decided to tell you now that we need alerting set up. If you don't want to do it, too bad as your VP has already bought into our request. Have a nice day!

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

Let me get this straight. Your manager's boss trusts you enough to believe that you can outperform another department and you feel insulted? Your boss's boss is going to present these reports, presumably to his boss (and perhaps above) and show weekly how his group (you!) produced results without a million dollars in tools, and you want suggestions on how to derail the project? A word of advice on corporate environments. You have just been given an opportunity to shine in front of multiple levels of management. Yes, put testing and QA of applications on hold, the organization has servived several months without them already. Get yourself over to see your boss's boss now and make sure you know the details of what he wants. Find the easy parts and provide trade-offs for the more difficult data sources. Perhaps several of the data sources can be left out of the initial version or the data supplied manually. This is a great opportunity for you. Play ball with the big boys and you may actually get to the VP/Cl-Level where you can set and enforce sensible policies.

ashiffman
ashiffman

As much as we might recommend trying various methods for dealing with these kinds of issues, if you have a supervisor who is a poor manager, you will always have problems. I spent 13 years working for local government as a Helpdesk Manager in a dysfunctional work environment that ultimately drove me to find new work, even though I was making a great salary and had great benefits. So now I work for a University where we still have a lot of bureaucracy but at least the manager's here are competent and understand the basics of project management and aren't into just making themselves look good. So unless you are in a unique position where you are able to influence the culture where you work, finding a new job (as onerous as that can sometimes be) is often the only solution. In my government job, I tried over and over to get management to listen to me on key IT infrastructure and service issues, but it was like talking to a brick wall. This was an environment where I had created very specific procedures for service and they were routinely ignored by management even after they had agreed they were all great ideas. Originally I questioned my decision to leave, but several months later the local agency went through a serious of mid-management layoffs, accounting problems (more of a scandal really), etc. Now I see my decision was entirely justified and necessary. My new work at the University is somewhat peripheral to my previous work (I still use my IT skills but the focus is completely different) but I now have a really good management team to work with and it makes a *huge* difference.