I was at a conference recently where the speaker quoted
someone (unfortunately, I cant remember who) who said that the best run
organizations are those which have mastered the mundane.
That is a pretty profound statement because, if taken literally,
it means that the organization has perfected its day-to-day activities to such
a degree that it is free to focus on being agile and responsive to the forces
that affect it in a proactive way.
The path to this mastery is partially through efficient and
effective standard operating procedures (SOP). SOPs are defined as detailed,
written instructions to achieve uniformity of the performance of a specific
function.” In other words, procedures that make sure that inputs to a
process result in the same outputs in terms of quality, quantity, consistency,
SOPs by design, should be based on the best way of doing
things in your organization, often reflecting the best practices of the
industry. Thus, we have a tie-in to methodologies such as COBIT, ITIL, and ISO.
So in general, SOPs are a good thing. However, it never
ceases to amaze me how organizations can take a desire to implement best
practices and SOPs and completely miss the boat on what they are doing and why
they are doing it.
The purpose of SOPs is to make your organization perform
better and faster, with higher quality, increased customer service, and
accountability. The SOPs ARE NOT the end product, nor are they designed to be
so rigid as to make conducting business painful. You know where I am coming
from here. I’m talking about the kind of “procedures” that are so
cumbersome and time consuming that they make you want to pull your hair out
(whats left of it); that make work for people whose only reason to exist in
the organization is to enforce the “procedures;” that were designed so
long ago they haven’t kept up with the changing organization, or for IT,
changes in technology.
I have witnessed the logistical operations of UPS and Fed Ex,
and I can tell you that these organizations have truly mastered the mundane. Their
cargo handling capability is literally a science and they have achieved mastery
not just by creating SOPs and sticking to them, but by constantly re-examining
their processes to make them more efficient, effective, and consistent. Because
of this mastery of the mundane, they have had the opportunity to come up with
creative ways to expand their respective businessesways that would not be
possible if they were still operating on the same set of SOPs they first
developed when they started handling packages.
Looking strictly at IT, it is important to remember that
your organization is unique and that plopping in a best practice without
considering the individual quirks of your environment is usually a bad idea. You
need to take the procedures, methodologies, and best practices that have been
hammered out by others and refine them for your own uses. You need to tailor
them for your environment not adhere to them as if they were gospel.
That is why I like ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) so
much. ITIL teaches you about good practices in IT, but it is not prescriptive
in how you get there. The work in ITIL is translating the outcomes from the
Library into a methodology for your organization that will achieve the results
you are looking for.
In summary, IT, as a service-based organization needs to
master the mundane in order to have the flexibility to work with its business
units and add value. Mastering the mundane is accomplished by implementing
procedures that insure a quality output on a consistent basis. Flexibility and
agility is gained by constantly examining your procedures to insure that your
operations are purring like a kitten. IT organizations can get a head start on
those procedures that help guarantee success by adopting structures and
methodologies such as ITIL and COBIT.
But smart organizations know that they need to examine these methodologies in
order to make them fit within their environment and realities of their
organization. Pretending to do otherwise will lead you down the wrong path and
make you one of those organizations with disjointed, out-of-touch SOPs that
make it harder, not easier to do business.