Bureaucracies and information flow (take 2)


Actually just a few observations others have made, but observations I live within everyday:

The Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that:

In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.

With the first group exibiting oligarchic behavior, dysergy follows. I will add an exception to Pournelle’s Law: IT people are devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself, yet as a perceived “cost center” they get eliminated too. Interestingly, this happens because as observed by the Shirky Principle:

Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.

IT people do not easily accept the fact that part of their work is to make themselves redundant and by objecting to that (and therefore by maintaining their own internal bureaucracy) they get eliminated while fighting interdepartmental wars that have nothing to do with the organization’s mission. The rest of the departments understand the lesson IT took only after their time comes too.

I had heard Shirky’s Principle years ago (pre 2000) stated by me supervisor at the time in a different way:

A bureaucracy’s first objective is to maintain itself. Then to fulfill the reason it was created for.

Lost in translation. I think I’m going to find myself a Permit A 38 now.

Update 2011/12/21: Peter Drucker writes:

People are so convinced they are doing the right things and so committed to their cause that they come to see the institution as an end in itself. But that’s a bureaucracy

(part 1)


2 Responses to “Bureaucracies and information flow (take 2)”

  1. anon4cec Says:

    How are IT people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself?

    • adamo Says:

      Really? What is IT if not a support function of the organization which substitutes older bureaucratic practices with new processes which in turn due to growth, lack of adaptability and need for structure maintainance become a strict part of the bureaucracy themselves? Is not IT an internal support function and thus viewed as mostly a “cost center” by management, especially in hard times?

      What are the IT policies of acceptable usage if not bureaucratic documents which in time become totally detached from reality and practice? How often do they get updated? Does mangement seek continuous renewal of them policies or does it go the easy way allowing exception over exception resulting in spaghetti policies?

      Do we have to enter the IT governance stuff to see that IT is dominated by bureaucracy which it is required to facilitate? ITIL, CoBIT, Sarbanes-Oxley and other regulatory legislation demand just that: Paperwork and reporting which in reality seldom gets aggregated to something meaningful other than proving regulatory compliance. Mind you I do not find them useless, but I really find them distracting from doing the actual work for which they require me to report on.

      And let’s not get into what happens when a user in a well-defined environment asks, wants, has a new unforeseen by the IT need for hardware, software or process. Do not we oppose change when proposed by others because of the impact it will have on the current system?

      While we are supposed to cut down on bureaucracy we just replace it with one of our own. Innevitable. And it gets worse when we resist to change like any other bureaucrat by building a little non expanding, non evolving dominion (IT silo if you like). Until the time someone else at a key position and frustrated enough realises that it is not needed any more.

      And the loop continues.

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