Silicon Valley State of Mind, a blog by John Weathington, "The Science of Success"
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Silicon Valley State of Mind

Tips, thoughts, and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "The Science of Success."

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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in bureaucracy

Posted by on in Leadership

Alaska Airlines finally apologized to the disabled gentleman they refused to help board their plane so he could visit his daughter in Washington. Apparently a man with Parkinson’s disease seemed disoriented at the gate (funny how that works), and nobody from Alaska/Horizon Airlines would help him—even when a concerned onlooker tried to intercede by appealing first to the professionalism of the airline staff, then to the basic humanity. In spite of the obvious need for their assistance, and multiple escalations with escalating appeals, the airline employees repeatedly recited their policy of not offering special assistance to any travelers.

Cameron Clark, the advocate for the elderly gentleman, quickly became outraged at the indecency of the way Alaska/Horizon treated this poor gentlemen, and took to social justice. He blasted Alaska Airlines on his Facebook page, and the story quickly went viral, then hit the national news with USA Today. Wouldn’t you know, Alaska Airlines has now taken a very active interest in our elderly and disabled gentleman flyer. In his apology, President Johnson from Horizon Air admits they should have handled it better.

I’d like to quickly address the leaders out there who believe good policies and procedures are the way to run a company. Directionally I agree; however you must be careful of getting into situations like Alaska. Good policies keep everything in order, and this is very important for an airline. They have a huge responsibility over others. Without an over-emphasis on policy, a lot of people could die.

That said, it’s impossible to create a policy/procedure for every situation. Especially when dealing with the public, there’s a wide variety of possible situations. They fell into the process management trap. Something obviously went wrong with Alaska, but I don’t blame the employees at the gate, I blame the leadership. Their philosophy is obviously bureaucratic, the employees were just doing what they were told, and they’re probably not allowed to do anything different for fear of some sanction.

The leadership needs to adjust their approach, and allow the employees on the front line to use some discretion. Yes, you will get a variety of inconsistent outcomes for different situations, but you must learn to live with it. It’s better than being crucified in the social media by your customers.

It’s good that Alaska apologized, but the damage is already done. This want so viral, I heard about it from my chiropractor when I was getting adjusted on Wednesday. You should read some of the responses to the apology. Few people are buying the ostensible sincerity of the President—would you?

It’s better to get the leadership correct so there is no need for an apology. There’s no undo in Unix; don’t issue return on the wrong command.

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Posted by on in Program Management

The Unites States Federal Bureau of Information (FBI) announced today that it spent $600 million to share files electronically. That seems silly doesn’t it?

To add insult to injury, this was the initiative that was spurred by the September 11th attacks back in 2001. That’s right, it took $600 million and 12 years to build a system that shares files electronically.

I know you may not be as experienced as I am in these matters, but in case there’s any doubt, no it does not take $600 million and 12 years to build a system to share files. At Sun Microsystems, it took me only $2 million and 1 year to build an entire compliance data system from scratch, that hooked into four disparate transactional systems including a massively customized Oracle ERP installation. This is at Sun Microsystems, the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a government operation in the private sector.

The obvious problems are bureaucracy and politics, but it’s worth mentioning to highlight just how insane costs can get when you don’t get this straight. Bureaucracy and politics go hand in hand to destroy a program. Bureaucracy happens when objectives don’t matter anymore and everyone’s just worried about following steps. This is what I call the project management trap. Politics happen when leaders protect their fiefdoms by any means possible, sustaining their position and the status-quo. In both cases, objectives are demoted in favor of artificial gods.

To prevent this in your organization, do three simple things:

  • Establish an Executive Sponsor who is clearly accountable for objectives. Give him/her the chair on a steering committee if you must, but there should be one, very high-level person accountable for nothing but results.
  • Establish a program/project charter, and assign full authority and responsibility to a competent program manager. Hire a good consultant of you don’t have the competence or availability in house, but avoid huge management agencies; it’s like hiring another bureaucracy. The FBI fired Lockheed Martin midstream on this project due to delays. I wonder why. The same thing will happen with any of the big consulting firms.
  • Setup tight-cycle (i.e. weeks, not months), functional deployments (i.e. something that can actually be used by the business), and reward everyone based on accomplishing small objectives to attain larger objectives.

Just like bureaucracy and politics work together to bloat program costs and timelines; these three practices work together as the Pepto-Bismol. By keeping the focus on objectives and actively fighting politics and bureaucracy, you can bring your project in far under $600 million and 12 years.

I mean, really? Give me a break!

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