As discussed two weeks ago, an anti-pattern is a commonly occurring pattern for a problem solution that produces counter-effective results. One might at first consider anti-patterns paradoxical — certainly such "solutions" aren't solutions at all. But if we consider solutions that do solve the problem as stated, but which also produce negative results when we consider all consequences, the paradox resolves.
For example, consider the CFO who, to control costs, lowers the ceiling for petty cash expenditures to a level that happens to be 80% of the cost of processing purchase requisitions. Such a policy will certainly increase control of petty cash. But the overall cost to the enterprise rises, because of the cost of processing requisitions.
Last time, we began examining the indicators and causes of the anti-pattern of excessively complex process architectures, which I call the Utility Pole anti-pattern. Let's continue.
- Senior managers sometimes complicate the problem when they execute reorganizations. They usually do reduce process complexity, but they usually don't eliminate the causes of regrowth of process complexity. Although each organizational adjustment cleans up some utility poles, those same poles are soon festooned again.
- Causes of process complexity probably reside beyond the reach of reorganization processes, because complexity always returns after reorgs. For example, when multiple functions are responsible for a given outcome, all involved feel obliged to define processes that ensure that outcome. Process redesigns that ignore this tendency cannot stem the regrowth of process complexity.
- Defenses and workarounds
- Causes of process complexity
probably reside beyond the
reach of reorganization
processes, because complexity
always returns after reorgs
- Complicated control processes can be obstacles to accomplishing objectives in complex bureaucracies. One common solution is the entrepreneurial approach, which aims at evasion and circumvention of controls, using networking, situational awareness, and clever deceptions. Another, the exploitative approach, turns the processes of the bureaucracy into tools to accomplish the advocates' objectives. Both require sophisticated understanding of the control processes.
- Confound expectations. If you're known as a "rule-bender," the entrepreneurial approach is risky. If you're known for cleverly exploiting the rules, the entrepreneurial approach might be the better choice.
- People with risk management responsibility for projects can help limit process complexity by making its costs explicit in risk plans. Common risks that are rarely identified explicitly include: risk of delays due to confusion about compliance with requisition requirements; risk of schedule disruption due to conflicting claims for resources; risk of budget overruns due to technically ambiguous wording of contracts with suppliers arising from restrictions forbidding direct participation by technical people in contract negotiations.
- Risk managers can identify and budget for these and similar risks. Be selective. Focus on risks that have materialized in the past, and use data from those past incidents to justify projections.
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