process improvementEvery once and a while you will see something that makes no sense but everyone involved treats it as status quo and goes about their business.  There are usually a series of work arounds in place because someone didn’t fix the problem that caused the situation in the first place.  Perhaps it could use a little process improvement.

Promotion expansion

You don’t see it as much in the corporate world, but this phenomenon is pretty common in government organization.  People are often on a pre-ordained path.  You take the test or you fill the time requirement and you move up.  This is generally not an issue until you reach management level.  Then there is an assumed support structure.  You need an office, a support staff, and people to supervise.  This is where the problem starts.  Along time ago when the structure was created it was assumed that people would spend a certain amount of time and then retire.  This would facilitate an orderly ascension that matched the rates of promotions.  But…people don’t leave, and the ranks at the top start to swell.  The organization copes two ways – they slow promotions where possible, and where they can’t, they make up departments and divide responsibility.

Soon you have a very large, top heavy organization which no longer follows the process flows that it was originally created to perform.   And as an  added bonus, your mid level workers who have been there 5-10 years start looking elsewhere because they don’t see any room at the top.  These mid level vacancies are quickly filled with newbies who don’t know any better and they quickly become drones in a system that they don’t understand how it was supposed to work in the first place.  I once watched a process that generally took about 4 hours expand to 8 days through a reorganization to make room for newly promoted individuals.  Pointing this out doesn’t usually help, because someone near the top had to make that decision.  Going back, even if you are right, makes the person making the decision look foolish.  You have to let things run for awhile before making another change.  Or you have to wait for someone new to replace them.

To many chiefs…

One of the results of this expansion is that you have a very flat organization which probably doesn’t have have enough people on the front lines.   The above picture was taken on a Saturday morning at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  This was the first of three lines to stand in over the course of 2 hours, and to do what – take a picture.  The thing that struck me about this was that they didn’t put efforts toward process improvement or put more people on the front line, instead they added more security guards to keep people from getting out of the line which spanned two floors and extended outside the building.

Are you ready for some process improvement

Changes that result in a dysfunctional organization sneak up on you.  And you will waste a lot of time finger pointing.  Even if you could say that it was one person’s fault, they may no longer work for the organization by the time you recognize the problem.  It may take some time to undo things, and it may not be without pain.  You may find yourself in a position where you have positions you don’t need.  This can get sticky, especially if you are in a government organization.

Don’t try to put the genie back in the bottle.  You may need a different one.  Start by mapping out the responsibilities of your organization.  White boards or post it notes work well.  Now add in anything that your organization should be doing in the future but may not be now. (try to keep these separated/color coded for now).  This may not be a one person job and you may not get it on the first pass.  Now start plugging in people.  You may be limited by what you can do, but if you are lucky you may be able to start working on those things that are being discussed for the future.

More people in an organization is only applicable up to a point.  When the organization can’t support it, processes slow, and log jams appear.  Often people’s reaction is to throw more people at it.  This just makes it worse.  If your organization is expanding, make sure it is happening proactively.  If you are at a point where things are are becoming toxic, it’s time to throw all the pieces in the air and start over.