Hiding Behind the Process

If there’s one thing that gets on my nerves in the workplace or dealing with customer service, it’s hiding behind the process. While writing this article was triggered by a recent work event and inspired the attached comic, it’s not anything new.

Many years ago I had a misconfigured phone line. In the old days, if you wanted to save money, you bought a phone card dialled and prefix and got after a bit of faffing, got reduced-cost phone calls. In more recent times, you pick a supplier and they get BT (Openreach) to configure the line with a feature called carrier pre-select.

It’s a brilliant concept – you no longer need to punch in a special prefix, the line does it for you. Which is all good and well until the wrong carrier is configured on your line. The line itself works but for outbound calls, I’d need to add a prefix to select the correct carrier myself. Something that should be easy enough to fix right?

Wrong. My choice of supplier kept trying to log it as a physical line fault and running up Openreach engineer bills, then in turn trying to charge them back to me. Calling Openreach didn’t help. They insisted it was a billing issue and I needed to speak to my choice of supplier.

Many “welcome new customer” letters and a lot of phone calls later, I finally found someone that would break the process, select the correct drop-down on Openreach’s system and fix the “fault”. Something that could easily have been done on first contact.

Before I get any further, I should point out that I have been on the other side. I’ve read the Kanban book and understand the need to track every request or piece of work that comes in. I also understand contractual issues are in play with the Openreach example or third-party vendors in the recent work exercise I can’t divulge much more about.

But why do so many of us hide behind process? Whether it’s companies I’ll never use again making leaving them painful or that helpdesk ticket you file but end up having to fix yourself, all it does is frustrate and slow things down. I’ve seen projects that could have been delivered in a week or two strung out for months as cogs slowly turn to deliver run-of-the-mill requests (e.g. internally signed SSL certificates, which should really be automated in the 2020s!).

What gain is there to slowing things down? Is it accountability? Should requests really have to be blessed by a single person who, understandably, might want a holiday on occasion?

Is it about keeping the workload down? All hiding behind the process does here is frustrate, force people to chase results or even work around the process. It can actually lead to more work!

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a need to have rules and follow them. Even in the digital world, Information Security rules and processes are there for a good reason. But are you striking the right balance? Or are you inviting Shadow IT and workarounds you’ll never find out about until it’s too late?

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