Information Technology Dark Side

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The Bureaucratic Scale of Corporate Process

July 28th, 2006 · 3 Comments

I’ve alluded to this before in a previous post about Interviewing the Interviewer, but I feel the need to elaborate on this a little.

I have a mental tool that I have used for years to help me describe my workplace to others – the BSCP, or Bureaucratic Scale of Corporate Process. The scale, which I’ll describe in detail, helps me to characterize just how complicated, bureaucratic, or wasteful an organization’s process is in a simple way.

Here’s how it works. I start by drawing a long line on a whiteboard, with arrows on each end. At the far right, I write “Internet Startup”. At the far left, I write “Military Industrial Complex.” Then I briefly talk (or ask, if I’m feeling Socratic) about the differences between the two. Startups, as a rule, are flexible, delivery-oriented, happy-go-lucky, pressure cookers. The military industrial complex, on the other hand, is typically about as agile as the mummified remains of King Tut. There are vast differences between the two, and they both represent extremes in terms of the levels of ceremony (formality) of processes that an organization might have. All companies fall somewhere in between these two.

I like to ask people where their companies fall on this scale, and it’s surprising how quickly you can get a sense of how bureaucratic their company is just by asking them to mark on the line three things: their company, another company that is mildy bureaucratic, and another company that is mildly entrepreneurial. You can learn a lot that way.

I like to use this sometimes when I am interviewing candidates. I like to ask them to mark the location of the company they came from, where they would like to be, and then I show them where I think the company I work for falls on the scale.

Another revealing thing to talk about is the direction the company is moving on the scale. To the right or the left? Becoming stricter, more process oriented, or becoming more entrepreneurial? I don’t believe organizations stand still for very long. My experience has been that the scale is always sliding, even if it’s very slowly.

It’s also good to ask yourself where you want to be on the scale, and then try to figure out potential employers who match.

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Tags: Job Advice

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Daymond // Jul 31, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    Ahhh, you assume bureacracy can be / should be avoided. I think you have to differentiate appropriate deliberation vs. non value add bureacracy. After careful theorem analysis and research, I am proposing the following algorithm to understand the depth and breadth of bureacracy in a company.

    Daymond’s Bureacracy Factor (or DBF) = X (Y * Z + (M*N) / ((R+S)*K)


    X = size of the project team

    Y = the number of business and / or VP level organizational units required to implement a typical project

    Z = risk or “pucker” factor – monetary / user impact of new project or change, if the solution does not work or is not deployed in time.

    M = the amount of time given to implement the project

    N = the contractor to FTE ratio on the project

    R = the number of levels between a software engineer on the project and the VP

    S = staff “churn” ratio

    K = organizational process maturity (1-10)

  • 2 dave // Jul 31, 2006 at 4:55 pm

    I don’t even want to talk about that nasty formula, Daymond.

    I want to clarify one thing: not all bureaucracy is bad. It is bad, however, to not understand the amount of bureaucracy you can tolerate and still be happy. It is also bad to not evaluate your ability to tolerate bureaucracy against a prospective employer’s bureaucracy.

  • 3 Allen // Sep 5, 2006 at 12:18 am

    Brilliant Daymond! And so billiantly simple for the math majors. I especially love the Y Intercept of the formula 😉

    Very Adept… and with some refinement could put you on the road to Master 😉

    “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
    – Charles Mingus

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