The Bane of Work Life in 2015 - Organizational Standards

  • Posted on: 18 November 2015
  • By: Jay Oyster

Working in corporate America, one is surrounded every day by the endless jargon of endless variants of organizational standards theory. In the manufacturing world, it was all ISO 9000. In the IT world, everything is all about ITIL. And everywhere you go, you see the religion of Jack Welch, the high holy Six Sigma. And there are sub-variants for particular areas of operation. Project management has Agile and Scrum. Purchasing has LEAN. Every department has a well-branded theory these days.

Do you know what the point is of all of this? It's really quite simple. It's to get people to do what they would have done anyway if anybody had any common sense.

The problem with these organizational theories is that they start out very focused and prescriptive, but then they have to be generalized to cover all organizations and all situations. They're blown up like a giant balloon. And in that corporate version of the early universe's inflationary period, all value goes out of them.  You can still see some hints of the early structure in the cosmic background radiation of ISO and ITIL, but mostly it's so washed out by the intervening eons of hot air and abstraction that they become nearly useless. The only real function they provide is a structure on which people with no common sense can start to build the processes their organizations desperately need. OK, "no common sense" isn't fair for most of the professionals I've worked with. Actually, it's something that everyone in large organizations has to wrestle with nowadays simply because it's 'in the air'. Every large company or organizations is so inundated with these theories that you can't do your basic job without tripping over them every day. Without these hollowed out overgeneralized standards, most IT pro's are so overwhelmed by the jargon (and often alot of the jargon comes straight out of the very standards that are claiming to be of assistance) and the messiness of day-to-day operations, that they cannot figure out where to start.

So they go and get the certfication, and the little logo and piece of paper reassures them that, yes, you do know how to do this.

Classic salesmanship. . . . and simple human nature. 

As for me, mostly I just want to make these places make more sense and work better.  And here's the key to the problem with standards . . . . it needs to happen in a way that everyone understands. And the standards do everything they can to obscure simple understanding.  Unfortunately, they seem to be a necessary evil of large organizations these days. I suspect the real success is achieved by those who cut through the bullshit and figure out the background patterns, and work to THAT. At least, that's how I try to operate. We'll see how successful that is given a world filled with standards zombies.

Oh . . . . and one other simple rule for dealing with this shit . . . any time, and it happens ALL the time, the theory is taught by presenting it in one of those goddamned circle arrow diagrams, you know the presenter has no clue about the true underlying goal of the standard. The cursed circle of arrows diagram is just a way for a Powerpoint presenter to provide some visual interest to a topic that is so mind-numbingly boring, at least as it is being presented in their presentation, that they desperately latch onto whatever vaguely flowcharty and vaguely squarish image they can use. (Squarish in the sense that most true flowcharts flow off in one direction or another in a way that isn't really easy to read on the 1.33 aspect ratio of a typical Powerpoint presentation.) So . .  .pick a graphic that is compact in both directions and involves arrows to show movement. Arrows are dynamic! Plug in whatever jargon-y words apply to the standard in question, and VOILA! you have the cursed circle of arrows diagram. Learn it. Learn to avoid it at all costs.