Two Wrongs

The Parking Lot Drill

The Parking Lot Drill

Many big modern organisations are run by bureaucrats whose specialisation it is to create more bureaucracy. These people spend a lot of time thinking up ways to measure the work performed from various angles, create reports for their superiors, argue for budgets, ask for status reports from the people they administrate, and so on. Surprisingly little of their day is occupied with actual work that improves end-user value.

Although often well-meaning, they end up riding on the work of others to earn their salary instead of doing actual work.

Bureaucracy is great at spreading because if my boss demands a status report, I will have to ask other people for status reports in turn to get a complete picture of the project, so this propagates downward and soon everyone (except perhaps the most junior contributors) is working in politics about meta-work, rather than doing the actual work.

I read – somewhere – about a thought experiment that stuck with me: after a fire drill when everyone is in the parking lot, the ceo says,

Everyone who was in an actual call with a customer when the alarm went off can go back in and continue to work. The rest of you stay out until someone dealing with a customer asks for your help.

I imagine a lot of people in hr, marketing, and various other paper-shuffling positions would have to stay in the parking lot for quite some time. Not to mention many executives!

A particularly interesting aspect of this is that the time it takes until someone gets to go back to work depends not only what their job is, but how the rest of the organisation treats that job.

In other words, by asking how many degrees away a person is from producing end-user value, the parking lot drill helps us find out both