No matter how long you make the process chart ……


……you never quite reach the customer! A senior official of a public services organisation, after reading The Intelligent Organisation, asked his assistant to purchase two more copies for other members of staff.

Email One:

Dear John,

 This may be a very cheeky request but A would like 2 copies of ‘The Intelligent Organisation’, and I am having great difficulty in getting Routledge to respond to get them onto our payment system. Is this something you can help with, as you are meeting with A next Monday evening, or shall I persevere with Routledge?

 Kind regards


Email Two:

Hi B

 For that size order I suspect the easiest method would be to buy them from the Routledge website: (or Amazon) using a credit card and claim it back!

 Failing that I can take two copies with me when I meet A on Monday.



Email three:

Hi John,

Many thanks indeed for getting back to me.

We are only supposed to use the Credit Card for train tickets and hotel bookings, everything else has to be purchased by way of a Purchase Order.  Because we have never bought anything from Routledge before they are not on our Purchasing System and we therefore need their account details etc, it is this bit I am struggling with.

 If you really wouldn’t mind taking a couple of copies with you though on Monday evening, that would be great?

 Kind regards


Now it is Monday evening and as I wait to meet A (with the two copies of the book in my bag), I have time to reflect how following ‘the process’ has forced the ‘wrong’ behaviour to achieve the ‘right’ outcome. ‘Right’ in as much as two copies of the book will end up where A wants them, ‘wrong’ in so far as the human actors in the story have been driven to bypass the process to achieve that outcome.

Quite clearly and not unreasonably the employer of A & B is attempting to control its purchasing costs and avoid unexpected (or unauthorised) purchases via the use of a purchase order system. At the same time it has recognised that process is impractical for certain impromptu or short notice purchases hence availability of a credit card.

I am going to guess here that the system was introduced with words to this effect:

“What we would normally expect is that all purchases are made using the Purchase Order system except where circumstances and/or time demand otherwise. For example such impromptu purchases might include last minute hotel bookings or train tickets…………”

So, what was expressed as an example has become a rule. The subtlety of the system, in which the designers allowed a degree of flexibility has been lost. Even if the ‘rule’ exists only in the minds of the people working the process their ‘reality’ includes it, it conditions their behaviour, their interpretation determines what is and is not permissible in the organisation. However, because they are good people and they want to deliver the outcome they will find a way round…

All systems and processes decay in this way. Even a well designed process is subject to variation and interpretation by the people who apply it. If there is scope for interpretation then people will find it. They will develop bypasses, workarounds, fiddles, adjustments and accommodations which allow them to, apparently, observe the letter of the rules whilst still getting the job done.

How often does that happen in your organisation? How much ‘efficiency’ is lost because the systems that are supposed to deliver it are either so inflexible that they actually inhibit it (by generating work arounds) or in the worst cases cause the organisation to become ineffective (fail to deliver its outcomes) by simply stopping things happening. How much of the obstructive, ‘more than my jobsworth’, behaviour is driven by a failure to design appropriate systems, train people effectively and then maintain an appropriate level of understanding and common sense?

To what extent has your organisation become self-delusionally efficient, following processes and procedures which appear to ‘do things right’ while being ineffective in pursuit of their purpose by failing to ‘do right things’?