The Death of Bad Systems

Quite often many coworkers and people  that I know ask me what do I really do. Coworkers, especially new ones, see me getting involved in many initiatives but don’t really understand my role. Frequently they assume I am the project manager and hence come back to me with updates on timelines and deliverables. Yes, I did start as a project manager but over time my role has significantly changed. When I get asked about my role, the simplest explanation I give is that I do process improvement and enable operational excellence within our organization. Even while saying or writing this, I roll my eyes at the “fluff” and “abstraction” of these words describing my ever evolving role. This is why I keep on searching for better explanation that will help people understand what I do and the value I could bring to the teams and the company I work for. Operational excellence and process improvement seems like a consultant talk and doesn’t fit with my vision of the impact that I try to have within our organization.

So the next best explanation I give is that I try to be the change agent. To ensure we move things along, we continuously change and adapt to the fast changing market and customer demands. But even that explanation raises more eyebrows and lack of clarity about my role.

Luckily, other smarter people have already realized and tackled the role and its importance within their organization. One is Hootsuite, a successful social media company from Vancouver, that just named their first “Czar of Bad Systems”. That’s right. The “Czar of Bad Systems” is the “go-to person who can take an objective look at processes that have outlived their usefulness. If people have a problem they can’t fix, even with help from their manager, they reach out to the Czar. In the past, these processes would’ve fallen through the cracks, they’d be cursed at but ultimately complied with. Now there’s hope that they might actually be corrected” – says Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite in an article for FastCo.

Even better title for the role is Shopify’s Director of Getting Shit Done. He manages a team that is charged to resolve internal issues and fix bad processes.

The concept of fixing bad processes and improving efficiency of teams is not new and often large corporations spend exorbitant amounts of money on consultants to help them fix things. However, one time effort of consultant work is not enough mainly because they tend to focus on the big initiatives, whereas the daily and smaller processes that often can cause for larger costs over period of time get ignored. Not all things can be fixed but as Ryan says “trying something, even if it only leads to marginal improvement, is better than the status quo”. Which is why companies need a person that will dedicate time and their attention to trying to identify and eliminate bad systems and improve broken processes, both small and big. The compound effect of the benefits of these efforts will be significant for the company over the long term.

My only question is if only one Czar is sufficient to do this within a company? How many should we have to make an impact significant enough to drive business growth? And how does the number of “Getting Shit Done Directors” correlate with the size of the company? I guess time and experience will tell.

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