Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 3;   January 20, 2016:

Virtual Clutter: I

by

Last updated: January 17, 2021

With some Web searching, you can find abundant advice for decluttering your home or office. And people are even thinking about decluttering email inboxes. But the problem of clutter is far more widespread.
Clutter in the Leonardo Module of the International Space Station

Clutter in the Leonardo Module of the International Space Station. In the background, you can see Astronaut Don Pettit, who has published a detailed blog entry describing the processes that lead to this level of clutter. One lesson: focus on the immediate task at hand can lead to failure to restore the working environment to its requisite state when the task is completed. Photo courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

It's easy to estimate the cost of physical clutter at home or at work. Obvious costs include the cost of the items themselves, plus the cost of the space they occupy. Other costs include the effort required to find an item among all the clutter; cleaning, heating, and cooling; insurance; fire, flood, and other casualty losses; unnecessary purchases to replace what can't be found among the clutter, and on and on.

Most physical cost sources of home clutter have clear analogs at work. In the workplace, though, we have forms of clutter that have few clear analogs at home, because they're virtual, which makes them difficult to recognize. We rarely account for the burdens imposed by virtual clutter.

Here's Part I a short catalog of forms of virtual clutter, including brief discussions of the burdens they impose. Let's begin with the highest-level forms of virtual clutter.

Policies
Most organizations have collections of policies and procedures. Over time, these edicts accumulate virtual clutter: policies that no longer apply, or exceptions that are no longer needed. The virtual clutter can make it difficult for policy authors to notice internal contradictions, or to discern the gaps in coverage for new cases that have arisen since the policies were created or last revised.
Many organizational policy documents are now available on line. They're searchable, which makes them easier to use. Searchability also facilitates removing internal inconsistencies and updating the policies to remove virtual clutter. Excuses for virtual clutter in a searchable policy base are rather lame.
Strategic plans
Some strategic Some strategic plans contain
initiatives that cannot work if
funded at the low levels that the
organization can actually afford
plans contain initiatives that cannot work if funded at the low levels that the organization can actually afford. Underfunded initiatives yield too little benefit, too late to matter. They are virtual clutter. They defocus the strategic plan, and disrupt its coherence.
How such initiatives persist is a topic for another time. For now, let's just begin to recognize them as virtual clutter, and do what we can to end them as soon as practical. Until we address the root causes of their existence, we'll likely see more examples in future strategic plans.
Processes
Organizational processes tend to have interfaces to other processes. When we alter processes, we don't always review the processes with which they interact. Consequently, over time, some processes develop now-unnecessary baggage that was once intended to support the needs of other processes, or make up for their shortcomings. An example: requiring the approval of a manager who no longer has appropriate authority, or worse, requiring the approval of a representative of a department that no longer exists.
When processes change, review all processes with which they interact. When we reconfigure the enterprise, we must systematically review all processes that control the activities affected.

We'll continue next time, exploring virtual clutter at lower levels of the organization.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Virtual Clutter: II  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenhZLYrRMtUnyjppRsner@ChacotqZAFalhYTBMgJWoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Using an information kioskKnowing Where You're Going
Groups that can't even agree on what to do can often find themselves debating about how to do it. Here are some simple things to remember to help you focus on defining the goal.
A cup of coffeeHow to Procrastinate
You probably know many techniques for procrastinating, and use them regularly, but vociferously deny doing so. That's what makes this such a delicate subject that I've been delaying writing this article. Well, those days are over.
A mantis shrimp, recently discovered to have the ability to detect the circular polarization state of lightA Review of Performance Reviews: The Checkoff
As practiced in most organizations, performance reviews, especially annual performance reviews, are toxic both to the organization and its people. A commonly used tool, the checkoff, is especially deceptive.
A forest pathThe Goal Is Not the Path
Sometimes, when reaching a goal is more difficult than we thought at first, instead of searching for another way to get there, we adjust the goal. There are alternatives.
A red flagRed Flags: I
When we finally admit to ourselves that a collaborative effort is in serious trouble, we sometimes recall that we had noticed several "red flags" early enough to take action. Toxic conflict and voluntary turnover are two examples.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

stacks of gold coinsComing January 27: Cost Concerns: Comparisons
When we assess the costs of different options for solving a problem, we must take care not to commit a variety of errors in approach. These errors can lead to flawed decisions. One activity at risk for error is comparing the costs of two options. Available here and by RSS on January 27.
A vial of COVID-19 vaccineAnd on February 3: Cost Concerns: Bias
When we consider the costs of problem solutions too early in the problem-solving process, the results of comparing alternatives might be unreliable. Deferring cost concerns until we fully understand the problem can yield more options and better decisions. Available here and by RSS on February 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenhZLYrRMtUnyjppRsner@ChacotqZAFalhYTBMgJWoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.