Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Informal Insurance Policy

"Why is this not what we asked for?
This is what you asked for.
No it's not.
Yes it is!
No it's not!
Look at your documentation it's just like you asked for it!
I never signed this document!"

How many of us have had discussions like this in our organization? How did documentation become the insurance policy between the business and IT?  Why is it that a signature on requirements documents are never completed until the last minute in the project?  Of course we all know why, regardless if we will ever publicly disclose it.

Okay I will spill the beans, it's because everyone reserves the right to change it up until the last minute before delivery.  They reserve that right because they often don't know what the customer wants or IT does a poor job delivering what the business wants. By holding documentation hostage, business and IT will use that document as an insurance policy.  Some call it CYA while I just say it's creating an environment of tremendous waste.  Often in organizations the collaboration between IT and the business (yes most of you know I hate that phrase) is so tense that a requirements documents is used as a mechanism to cover your backside.  Agile's answer is customer collaboration over contract negotiation and/or working software of comprehensive documentation.   Lean likewise is similar with focusing our energy on delivering customer value over wasteful activities.  These philosophies have taken a distinct position against unnecessary documentation because they know it prohibits collaboration and any resemblance of value based delivery.

The majority of organizations believe that documentation is the collaboration tool which delivers the right solution to the customer.  This rarely is true if ever and I often see when consulting a client that documentation is used as a reason (or excuse) not to deliver value to the customer.   For those of you who as an organization live and die by documentation ask yourself, what real value does documentation serve in my job?  Does it serve as my professional insurance policy?  When does the document get signed?  Why does it even need to be signed?  What purpose does a signature even serve?  How often is the document used as a device of threat and intimidation?

I'm not suggesting that there is no need for documentation as I believe there's plenty need in plenty of activities.   Arguably though I believe 90% of the perceived need disappears when organizations value stream their process and measure if it's delivering value to their customer.  Documentation is an important part of any organization, but unlike traditionalists who often see documentation as a risk reduction strategy, value based delivery sees documentation as a strategy which increases overall risk the more emphasis placed on it.  The answer is simply to write documentation when that's the best way to achieve the relevant goals.  Question what those goals are though that require documentation that ask for signatures or are used as clarification.  If documentation is being used in place of collaboration then you should be worried as an organization. 


If you're organization is heavy in documentation I would like to hear from you.  Is the reason you document to act as an insurance policy?  If it's an insurance policy how is trust viewed in your environment?  How is your relationship with other business groups?  How often does your customer accept your first pass as acceptable? How does your organization understand the concept of value delivery?  My experience tells me that if any of these questions are answered in a negative light then you are document process intense.  Likely if you are document heavy then you work in a command and control environment with contentious relationships.  If you work in a trusting environment where the distinction between you and other business units is blurred and you have a great collaborative relationship with your peers then I will go out on a limb and propose you have limited documentation.  Environments of trust create minimal documentation.  Which environment do you work?  I'm interested to hear how your firm uses documentation and how you collaborate.   

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