What’s the point of a procedure if no one knows or cares if it works?

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What is the point of a ‘business’ procedure if it can’t be enforced?

When you’re designing any kind of procedure you must always ask yourself – is it worth it? And, if it is, how can you ensure that it works?

paperwork

A recent example of absolute futility was the Ebola-contact form that you had to fill in when arriving at Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague. The procedure has long-since been abandoned but whilst the epidemic was raging cabin crew handed out forms on every flight to the city. On the first few flights the cabin crew collected the forms. I don’t know what they did with them, but it didn’t matter if you gave them an empty form or filled in some fictional details.

Later, you had to drop them into a box in front of passport control. I never found out where the box was.

The form was far from simple. You had to give your name, address, passport number, date of birth, flight number, seat number, expected days in Prague, recent countries visited, and so on. And of course, you could never find a pen when you needed one. It was tedious, and completely pointless.

Perhaps it was almost imaginable that these forms might have been useful if the epidemic had spread globally, but I doubt it.

But without sanctions, without enforcement, without checks and controls, the procedure was a complete waste of time.

When designing a procedure whether around business systems or in the more public world always ask:

  • Is it worthwhile? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?
  • Is it simple enough, so that people will have the desire and time to comply with it?
  • Is there a way of ensuring accurate compliance?
  • Are there sanctions against laziness, dishonesty or facetiousness?

In any case, the Ebola epidemic, though not extinguished, is waning. And somewhere near Vaclav Havel Airport there is a huge bonfire raging.

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