How you ever hacked a process at work?

Have you ever worked at a company and had to contend with convoluted processes just to get your job done?

I have. I worked at one firm where something as routine as updating a time sheet was a multi-step process that involved logging on two web sites. This may have made sense to the department that created the sites but it sure made life difficult for hundreds of employees who were expected to use the time sheet every day.

It’s a common occurrence. The book Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results argues that most businesses’s “love of bureaucracy, lingering technology, and deeply ingrained processes” is making life unbearable for thousands of employees around the world. The book was listed as the Harvard Business Review’s ten breakthrough ideas for 2010. Here’s an excerpt:

“Today’s top performers are taking matters into their own hands. They’re bypassing sacred structures and breaking all sorts of rules just to get their work done…More and more of us are finding that our work tools and structures are completely out of synch with what we need to do our best. Most of our daily needs, dreams, desires, and goals are far ahead of our employers’ technological, procedural, and social adoption curves.”

Like most people, I used to think of a “hack” as an act meant to do harm. But authors Bill Jensen and Josh Klein suggest that a hack can often be something benevolent: “It’s about making the system work for you, so you can take control of your workload, increase your productivity, and help your company succeed—in spite of itself.”

This book made me think about laborious tasks that I’ve wrestled with in the past. Two examples:

• I worked for a high-tech company that was bought by a multinational organization. After the dust settled, the technical communications group was faced with a huge rebranding effort including changing templates and copyright content, and replacing all old company names with the new company name. On my product team, I needed to replace hundreds of old company and product names. And it wasn’t a quick search and replace effort. It required me to review every instance because of rules about the company’s name and its placement within a sentence. How I’d do things differently today: For all product and company names, I’d use variables so that if copyrighted names changed again, I could change them in minutes, not days.

• At another company some years ago, I distributed content to subject matter experts for a technical review, and received dozens of comments back on a large document. So what did I do? Review the PDF file and compare it to the original source file sentence by sentence. I found myself thinking, “Surely, there’s a better way to manage these reviews so I don’t have to do this comparison page by page.” How I’d do things differently today: If I’m using the latest version of FrameMaker or RoboHelp, I’d fully embrace the feature that enables me to import PDF annotations back into my source files. Hours of time saved!

These are not so much “hacks” but just different approaches I’d take if faced with the same work. As for those time sheets? Perhaps I’d just blunt the tedium of the task by trying to update the time sheets less frequently.

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