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January 29, 2007


Dennis Howlett

An interesting set of thoughts Alistair but I don't agree with the approach for all businesses. The fundamental problem with documentation is the minute you get done, someone wants a change. Does that get documented as a matter of routine? I doubt it. Is it automated? Almost never.

Most of the real problems I see are more to do with process failure you can't see except through discovery. This is particularly true when processes are 'in-flight.'

No amount of documentation will help because by definition, documents record the result of past events.

I'm not saying documentation is useless. If you're in a regulated environment, it's mandatory. I'd argue that while useful and a good discipline, it is much harder to solve process problems than people imagine.

Mark Fermor

I think to look at your processes closely to examine their effectiveness is a key part of any business. If you need to document them to examine them then that is probably a reflection on the size of your business.

If processes are documented to establish their effectiveness in achieving clear set business goals, then the document, if done effectively will be a vital business tool. If someone ‘wants a change’ then hey, let’s review the required change against the business goal and if the change is justified, then let’s be grateful they wanted the change.

One of the first things I learnt at university is that there is something in life called the 99% completed syndrome. It refers to something being almost done for its entire life. System reviews have the danger of dying a death from this syndrome if they don’t have a clear cut-off date. If this is established from the start and then stuck to; the business can at least achieve some improvement. If a review is constantly held back because the possibility exists that someone wants change; then change will never happen.

If process failures are not clear to see I would suggest the business lacks a clear direction of where it is going. If you don’t know where you are going it’s really hard to see where you are taking the wrong turns, even if you have a map. If you have a real good understanding of where you are going you will quickly know when you have taken the wrong turn.

Dennis Howlett

"If process failures are not clear to see I would suggest the business lacks a clear direction of where it is going."

That's not true. Processes are almost always documented at design time but rarely are they reviewed 'in flight.' Significant numbers of failure occur due to unexpected or unforseen problems that only surface 'in flight.' they need not have an impact on direction but they almost always have implications for the bottom line.

The most common one I see relates to spreadsheets where complexity gets layered over time but which goes undocumented. Then some poor sap tries to use the sheet, making assumptions along the way. Happens all the time. 99%??

Speaking of which, businesses only need to get 97.5% 'right' to meet most of their objectives. I agree though, the search for Nirvana is a stupid idea, guaranteed to waste a ton of money.

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