Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category

Seat-backs and tray-tables . . .

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

imageA few weeks ago, I blogged about a frustrating incident in an organization created a bureaucratic procedural approach to achieve the desired policy outcome rather than to create a process that would empower the people performing the activity to ensure that the policy was met in the most efficient manner.

That post caused a series of interactions with someone who took issue with my post and assumed the position to defend the procedure I was annoyed with.  I believe we left the matter at a point of agreeing to disagree.

Perhaps this post will cause a different group to take issue with me, but many more people are likely to relate to the content so I can convey the topic of policy-process-procedure in a different way.

A few days ago I found myself in an airline row with 3 seats to myself from the aisle to the window.  As a frequent flyer I automatically ensure that my seat-back is forward and my tray-table is "in its upright and locked position" at all the expected points in the flight profile.  But this time, when it came to landing, it got me thinking (again) about the policy-to-procedure "food chain".  Something seemed a bit over-kill-ish and I wasn’t sure at first why.

In particular I was ruminating on the requirement to put your tray-tables up and bring your seats backs forward during ground operations, take-off and landing.  Why?

So I started with the question: what could this requirement be fulfilling?

That’s easy: Safety!

But then: what is it about safety that this specific requirement fulfills?

That’s easy too: Avoiding injury in case of getting tossed about in the cabin plus the need for people to be able to get out of the plane in case of emergency.

OK.  But still: what’s going on that would lead to someone getting injured and/or being impeded from getting out of the plane in an emergency?

And that is when I realized what’s going on.

The requirement to put our seat-backs forward and our tray-tables up *is* over-kill in certain situations.  Well, the tray-tables part really is NEVER over-kill.  That’s *always* a good idea.  But, specifically, I was thinking about the seat-backs part as sometimes over-kill.

Like in the situation I found myself in.

FAA logoAirlines have to comply with the FAA’s regulations and create their own policies to do so.  In fairness, I have not read the FAA’s regulation on this, but since I am learning to fly, I’m generally familiar with the way in which flight regulations go.  Where it concerns passengers, the regulation is about safety, and it isn’t up to the FAA to tell airlines exactly how to make that happen.  Airlines don’t have to give you seats that recline, or tray tables to put your things onto.

So the airlines come up with policies to ensure they comply with the regulations.  And, then the airlines come up with processes to execute the policies and procedures to perform the processes.  Or, often, they just skip the process part and jump right into procedures.

You see, bringing up our seat-backs is a procedure intended to ensure a policy (and a regulation) is fulfilled.  But the policy (and the regulation) can be fulfilled in other ways.  Yet the airlines don’t provide flight crews with any other way and as a result, passengers are (sometimes) inconvenienced. 

Had the airlines created processes instead of procedures, then bringing up our seat-backs would be a function of whether or not anyone would actually be impeded by having our seat-backs reclined.  In the situation a few mornings ago, not only did I have an entire (half) row to myself, but the half row behind me was empty.  With no one next to me, no one behind me and an exit row several rows away, I could have left my seat all-the-way back and not bothered anyone’s attempt to get out of the plane in an emergency, I could have rested more comfortably during landing, and I wouldn’t have wasted a flight attendant’s time asking me to put my seat up (which didn’t happen since I did it anyway — but I’m just sayin’).

However, I’m not about to advocate for a change to airline policy on this point.  Really, there are many other factors to consider, and six seats with only one passenger in them isn’t common anymore so the likelihood of not needing to put-up our set-backs is rare.  The procedure is nearly 100% appropriate and for the less than 1% of instances where a better process would have helped, it’s entirely NOT worth it.  I’ll suffer.

In all honesty it wasn’t a big deal at all.  In fact the observation was merely mental gymnastics for me, but it did serve as good fodder to help explain the difference between policy, process, and procedure.

What’s in a Policy?

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

This post is part gripe part informative.

Let’s start with the gripe (it’s also informative).

Two of my kids go to a pre-school with the following inclement weather policy:
(Only the names of the places have been edited. Otherwise, this is verbatim.)

  1. Our policy is based on [B] County School Announcements. We do not make specific [OurSchool] Announcements.
  2. If [B] County Schools are closed due to inclement weather, our school will follow the same procedure.
  3. If public schools are opening one hour late, we will open on time. There will be no before school care.
  4. If public schools open 2 hours late, we will open at 10:00 AM. There will be no before-school care. The morning session will end at 12 Noon.
  5. If public schools open more than 2 hours late, we will open at 12 Noon for extended day children.
  6. If [B] County closes early, we will also close.
  7. If inclement weather develops while the children are in school, it may be advisable to close school early. Listen to your radio for [B] County closing announcements. Parents concerned about inclement weather should pick up their children as soon as possible. Working parents are responsible for making arrangements to have their children picked up on time.
  8. Our facility is air-conditioned in cases of extreme heat.

Inclement Weather Procedure
Please read carefully.
There have been changes to our policy.

Notice anything strange?

How about they don’t know the difference between a Policy and a Procedure. (Don’t even get me started on where “process” fits into this!)

How about the problem that what their “policy” boils-down to are:
a) we don’t have a policy,
b) we follow what the County does,
c) except when we don’t.

In reality, how this “policy” plays out is this: If/when (and it *has* happened) that our kids’ school decides to not follow the County’s lead, they have no reliable way of notifying parents. They expect us to either call them, monitor email, or just show up. The issue with calling them is that they’ve got about 100 families of kids at their school. Not like 20 in a daycare.

Here’s another problem. Today, public schools were closed for Primary Elections (our County uses the public schools as voting locations), and, there was inclement weather. How exactly was the policy going to work today?!?!

Don’t think I haven’t brought this to their attention from the very first time the first of my kids attended that school. Of course, I was ignored by the school administration. To say that my concerns were “dismissed” as insignificant details would be giving them too much credit for even comprehending why my observation was even an issue.

So, here’s the “informative” part of the post.
And, the “agile” connection.

A policy is little more than a charter for doing something. When it comes to processes and process improvement, the policy gives “teeth” from upper leadership to the performance of the processes by projects. Existence of policies for doing a process are the first indication that processes are being worked into the fabric of an organization. In CMMI, being worked into the fabric of an organization is called “institutionalization” and is carried out by performing the Generic Practices. Since “being worked into the fabric of an organization” is about making an impact on the organization’s culture, I like to call this aspect of process implementation, acculturation.

Here are some other hints and tips for policies:

  • They don’t include processes or procedures, though they may reference them for clarification, edification, or example.
  • They could easily be replaced with a “charter” if that works better for your organization.
  • They shouldn’t be so weak as to be rendered obsolete or useless under the strain of simple integrity (read: “smell”) tests.
  • Someone should care whether the policy is followed because having the policy ought to be essential in helping the organization and its stakeholders make decisions and be predictable.
  • Policies should be clear about what’s expected of people’s conduct and performance (which makes them *not* the same a vision or mission statements — if it reads like one of those, it’s not a policy).
  • They can actually be carried out, and you know when they aren’t, and when not it’s either very unusual, or, someone’s not gonna be happy.
  • Suggest a certain priority of activities, and when in doubt or when conflict arises, the policy should help sort through it, or at least let those operating under the policy know when they’re in unchartered territory so they can seek leadership input.
    And, most importantly,
  • Policies set expectations, not steps, not work-flows, not checklists.

In agile organizations, or in “traditional” organizations looking to become “agile”, look to policy to ensuring minimal ‘prescriptiveness’ or, respectively, a source of unnecessary limitations, restrictions and undue ‘proceduralizing’.

In our experience, our kids’ school isn’t alone in having intractable policies. Only, when our kids’ school ran into me, they were up against someone who actually thought having a “policy” meant something.

Silly me.