Is Bureaucracy Just Another Name For Governance?

Is Bureaucracy Just Another Name For Governance?

Fascinating opinion piece by Fisman and Sullivan in the Wall Street Journal on Friday (15 March 2013) called “The Unsung Beauty of Bureaucracy.”

The authors argue that bureaucratic rules and regulations serve important purposes in that while “less good stuff gets done–but it also puts a check on the kinds of initiatives that can lead to catastrophe.”

And they give numerous examples of industries that perform sensitive functions that you would want to actually take some extra time to make sure they get it right.

A vary basic example given was the company Graco that makes infant car seat and strollers; they have five design phases and hundreds of tests that add up to two years to product development, but who would rationally argue against such quality controls processes to protect our children.

They make another good point, we always here about bureaucracy slowing the innovation and product development down, but what about the “bad ideas that were quashed as a result of the same rules?”

We all rail against having to jump through hoops to get things done and rightfully so. The mission is important, time is of the essence, and resources are limited–last thing anyone wants is to be told you have x process that must be followed, y gates to get through, z signatures to obtain–and that’s just for the routine stuff! 🙂

But as much as we hate to be slowed down to cross the t’s and dot the i’s, often that’s just what we really need–to make sure we don’t do anything half-a*sed, stupid, or jut plain reckless.

One mistake in an operational environment can bring things to a standstill for thousands, in a system it can have a dominos effect taking down others, and in product development it can bring deadly consequences to consumers, and so on.

So putting up some “bureaucratic” hurdles that ensure good governance may be well worth its weight in gold.

Frankly, I don’t like the word bureaucracy because to me it means senseless rules and regulations, but good governance is not that.

We need to stop and think about what we are doing–sometimes even long and hard and this is difficult in a fast-paced market–but like a race car taking the turn too fast that ends up in a fiery heap–stopped not by their steady pacing, but by the retaining wall protecting the crowds from their folly.

One other thing the author state that I liked was their pointing out the government which is involved in so many life and death matters needs to maintain some heightened-level of governance (I’ll use my word), to get the food supplies safe and the terrorists out.

From clear requirements to careful test plans, we need to ensure we know what we are doing and that it will work.

At the same time, showing up after the party is over serves no purpose.

Like all things in an adult world, balance is critical to achieving anything real. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

>Decoding Decision-Making

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Decision-making is something we have to do every day as individuals and as organizations, yet often we end up making some very bad decisions and thus some costly mistakes.

Improving the decision-making process is critical to keeping us safe, sound, and stably advancing toward the achievement of our goals.

All too often decisions are made based on gut, intuition, politics, and subjective management whim. This is almost as good as flipping a coin or rolling a pair of dice.

Disciplines such as enterprise architecture planning and governance attempt to improve on the decision-making process by establishing a strategic roadmap and then guiding the organization toward the target architecture through governance boards that vet and validate decisions based on return on investment, risk mitigation, alignment to strategic business goals, and compliance to technical standards and architecture.

In essence, decisions are taken out of the realm of the “I think” or “I feel” phenomenon and into the order of larger group analysis and toward true information-based decision-making.

While no decision process is perfect, the mere presence of an orderly process with “quality gates” and gatekeepers helps to mitigate reckless decisions.

“Make Better Decisions,” an article in Harvard Business Review (HBR), November 2009, states, “In recent years, decision makers in both the public and private sectors have made an astounding number of poor calls.”

This is attributed to two major drivers:

Individuals going it alone: “Decisions have generally been viewed as the prerogative of individuals-usually senior executives. The process employed, the information used, the logic relied on, have been left up to them, in something of a black box. Information goes in [quantity and quality vary], decisions come out—and who knows what happens in between.”

A non-structured decision-making processes: “Decision-making has rarely been the focus of systematic analysis inside the firm. Very few organizations have ‘reengineered’ the decision. Yet there are just as many opportunities to improve decision making as to improve other processes.”

The article’s author, Thomas Davenport, who has a forthcoming book on decision-making, proposes four steps (four I’s) organizations can take to improve this process:

Identification—What decision needs to be made and which are most important?

Inventory—What are the factors or attributes for making each decision?

Intervention—What is the process, roles, and systems for decision-making?

Institutionalization—How do we establish sound decision-making ongoingly through training, measurement, and process improvement?

He acknowledges that “better processes won’t guarantee better decisions, of course, but they can make them more likely.”

It is interesting that Davenport’s business management approach is so closely aligned with IT management best practices such as enterprise architecture and capital planning and investment control (CPIC). Is shows that the two disciplines are in sync and moving together toward optimized decision-making.

One other point I’d like to make is that even with the best processes and intentions, organizations may stumble when it comes to decision making because they fail into various decision traps based on things like: groupthink, silo-thinking and turf battles, analysis paralysis, autocratic leadership, cultures where employees fear making mistakes or where innovation is discouraged or even frowned upon, and various other dysfunctional impediments to sound decision-making.

Each of these areas could easily be a discourse in and of themselves. The point however is that getting to better decision-making is not a simple thing that can be achieved through articulating a new processes or standing up a new governance board alone.

We cannot delegate good decision-making or write a cursory business case and voila the decision is a good one. Rather optimizing decision-making processes is an ongoing endeavor and not a one-time event. It requires genuine commitment, participation, transparency, and plenty of information sharing and collaboration across the enterprise.