In many organizations, bureaucracy consists of people, policies, and procedures that focus organizational resources on reaching accepted objectives. Bureaucracy can also be an unnecessary obstacle, but that's a topic for another time. For now, let's focus on how to operate within bureaucracy to get our work done with minimal frustration and wasted effort.
One approach might be what I call Just-In-Time Hoop-Jumping, which means deferring preparations for jumping through a given hoop until the time is right.
For example, if you're preparing a project plan for a sequence of reviews by sponsors, managers, and governance boards, you know that some of these folks review only parts of the plan. Others review the entire plan piecewise in a set of mini-reviews. Some review items only after others have reviewed them, and so on.
The straightforward approach to final approval involves developing the entire plan and submitting it to reviewers, in turn, making adjustments after each review. But Just-in-Time Hoop-Jumping often produces better results, because you develop in detail only enough of the work to meet the requirements of the next reviewer along the path to final approval.
Of course, a clear view of that entire path is necessary — including answers to any questions that any reviewer might ask. But it isn't necessary to have those answers in final form until you reach the point where they might be asked.
Here are three guidelines for implementing Just-In-Time Hoop-Jumping.
- Synchronize your work to your audiences
- On the path to final approval, you'll probably face a sequence of different audiences. Be certain that your work meets the needs of each audience, but complete treatment of each part of the work is necessary only for the part to be reviewed by that audience. Sketchy versions of portions to be reviewed by later audiences might be adequate for now.
- Break your task into layers
- As you progress, How can you operate within bureaucracy
to get your work done with minimal
frustration and wasted effort?expectations for completeness and sophistication of the work increase. Meet those expectations. But going beyond what's necessary at any one stage exposes you to the risk that the above-and-beyond part might need rework if elements it depends on undergo change. Develop the effort in detail no more than is required for a particular stage of the review process.
- Use modularity to manage the risk of rework
- Understanding the standards to be applied at any stage of the process is a given. But you can limit the impact of failure to satisfy a reviewer by limiting the interactions between modules of the work. By making the modules of your proposal independent, you can reduce the work required to bring the entire work into compliance when one module changes.
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- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
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