Thursday, June 7, 2007

"Hey! That's *my* job not to do!!!"

I took a non-traditional path through the internship program. Rather than going to different offices to experience different problems, I followed one problem through several different offices, strapping together a workflow of individual technical solutions wherein the output of one office's work becomes the input of another with other offices providing necessary ad hoc support until the final products reach their intended destinations.

Naturally, the different offices are chartered by the organization with different functional duties and they are staffed with subject matter experts to perform those duties. Naturally, it seems, those organizations require the overhead of management, and management and organizations beget processes, procedures, plans, protocols, politics, and other dreaded "p"-words that full under the "b"-word: bureaucracy. And naturally again, fiefdoms evolve, as do struggles for territory. There are even border skirmishes. Most interns do not explore the boundaries---it is hardly necessary; the nature of my path, however, had me carrying my problems across many borders from one territory to the next. I had no allegiance to any office; rather, I was a project's champion.

When you, the fresh-eyed intern, know that what you have is important, it needs to be done, and you need help, it is daunting to encounter the bureaucracy. In a production environment, the office you approach for help is already fully tasked and is reluctant to add work. The office you approach rejects the approach you've taken. The office you approach only accepts tasking from the top-down through a long planning and vetting process (which you have not followed---how could you have known?) and is not geared to accept the bottom-up introduction of solutions to a problems not even on their radar. There are innumerable obstacles and ways for bureaucracies to tell you "no."

As an the intern who does not know any better, and perhaps as the only person who knows what absolutely must be done, you seek allies---people who have gone before you, people who understand your vision, people with talent who can help you---and you push ahead the best you can. You persevere. Inevitably you cobble together a solution (if not the solution), and success begets notoriety.

That is traditionally when the real hellfire begins. You didn't do it right. Your solution doesn't integrate into their processes and systems. Who told you to do that anyway? Worst and perhaps most insulting: You weren't authorized to seek a solution to that problem.

It is one thing to encounter someone on whom you must rely to do his job who is not doing that job, but it is another thing to pick up that person's tools and to successfully do that person's job for him. The result is rarely a "thank you."

And thus, having survived my own internship gauntlet, there is the expression I once proposed to characterize this particular type of obstacle. Anyone who hears it immediately understands. Everyone has encountered it at least once in his life:

Hey! That's my job not to do!!!

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