The Genesis of Bureaucracy

I was talking the other day with a group of highly capable IT professionals who were looking at improving their process maturity through the use of the ITIL framework.  As the conversation progressed it became clear that they were committed to improving the process maturity and began to discuss setting targets for their future maturity levels. One of the issues they identified during this discussion was that they did not have great compliance with their processes currently and if they were to mature their processes compliance would need to improve.  People quickly agreed that this was true and expressed disappointment that non compliance seemed to be tolerated currently.

I am a supporter of IT organisations maturing their processes.  Mature robust process is the foundation that great IT shops are built on, however, when someone innocently quipped “we need to ensure compliance but we need to balance compliance with the need to deliver to the customer” I had a sudden revelation.

For many people deeply involved in a process on a daily basis the process begins to exist for the sake of process not for the sake of customers.  To put it another way often process moves from being a means to an end, (the end being great customer service), to an end in it’s own right.  As soon as the process becomes an end in it’s own right and not a means to improving service for customers, bureaucracy begins as compliance becomes more important than service.  Worse, it’s possible that this bureaucratic state is the natural path of least resistance particularly for a team that sees itself as somewhat separate from the “business” (our industry’s constant debate about IT/business alignment is an indication of perceived separateness).

Counteracting this slide into bureaucracy is a priority for all IT teams.  The way to counteract the growth of bureaucracy is to ensure the customer is put in the middle of the process because delivering for the customer is after all why the team and all our processes exist.  You do this by constantly questioning “what is the impact of this on the customer?” and then changing your processes based on the answers.

This sounds easy but it can be quite complex as we have many customers and their needs often conflict.  We have all had the situation where the needs of different customer groups conflict or where the  need for speed conflicts with a need for stability and security.   These situations need to be thought through carefully but if we can put our customers in the middle and think from their perspective we will avoid the growth of bureaucracy and get more decisions right than wrong.



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