Friday, March 30, 2012

bureaucratic hells

I've had the time and occasion in the last few days to think a bit about bureaucratic hell.

You know when the organization staff members you deal with are incompetent, don't care about you, pass the buck to each other in the pattern of a maze of twisty little passages all alike, and generally behave in the eerily not-quite-human manner of a PKD android?

That's hell, but it's not a bureaucratic hell.

A bureaucratic hell is when each individual person or department is skilled at their job, dedicated to doing it well, patient with their customers and willing to take the time to address their concerns. But they also don't communicate with each other, so important data doesn't get passed on by person A or read by person B, you don't know which. They give inaccurate or misleading instructions as to what the next stage of your procedure, in some other department they've literally never been to themselves, is going to involve. They forget that you don't have their technical knowledge and talk really fast and over your head, and when you ask them to explain more slowly they say the same thing just as fast. They forget, also, that your lack of technical knowledge means you have no context in which to judge whether what they tell you is an absolute imperative or just a useful rule of thumb, so you have no idea whether, when two experts tell you different things, you should be alarmed or not. And, despite the speed with which they talk, they're so dedicated to taking the time necessary to deal with their customers' concerns that they're always running two hours late, and a one-hour appointment is likely to take all afternoon, all day if you need to see two or three of them in succession.

Most of these items show that the problem isn't with the individual people doing their own jobs. The real problem is with the network, the interstitial relationship among them. That's a bureaucratic hell. And that's what I've had the time and opportunity to contemplate.

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