Skip to main content

How completely messed up practices become normal.

Paul Crowley (@ciphergoth) posted a couple of interesting links on Twitter about the "normalisation of deviance" and organisational culture. The first was about the crash of a light aircraft that happened in Boston in 2014.  The report concluded that the pilots omitted every safety check they should have performed before take-off, and even when they realised there was a problem they did not abandon the take-off attempt.  As a result, they and their passengers were all killed.

What is interesting about the article is the investigation into the culture of the company.  It seems that pilots never performed these safety checks.   The proper process was seen as an annoying waste of time.  We see this in our own industry as well and I was thinking of posting something about the tendency to skip proper sign-offs in a project process.

Fortunately, Paul saved me the effort by linking to a much longer blog post by Dan Luu, with the title How Completely Messed Up Practices Become Normal.  It's a fascinating look at some of the weird practices Dan has encountered in his career and at how organisations come to regard their practices as "normal".  He gives examples from open source projects and big companies.  I really recommend that everyone working in IT reads this and has a think about how we can make our own organisations more aware, both of our odd practices and of what the best organisations are doing instead.


Popular posts from this blog

Why the UCISA Capability Model is useful

What do Universities do?

This may seem a strange question to ask and the answer may seem obvious.  Universities educate students and undertake research.  And perhaps they work with industrial partners and create spin-off companies of their worn.  And they may work with local communities, and affiliation bodies for certain degress, and they definitely report on their activities to government bodies such as HEFCE.  They provide student services and support.  The longeryou think about it, the more things you can think of that a University does.

In business, the things that an organisation does are called "capabilities", which is a slightly strange term.  I think it is linked to the HR idea of a combination of the CAPacity and ABILITY to do a task.  Whatever the name, it is a useful concept.  A capability is more basic than a process: a University may change the way it educates students but as long as it remains a University it will educate them one way or another.

A capability …

"No more us & them"

WonkHE recently posted an interesting opinion piece with the title Academics and Administrators: No more ‘us and them’. In that post, Paul Greatrix rebutted criticisms of professional services (administrative) staff in Universites from some academics. To illustrate his point, he quoted recent articles in which administrators were portrayed as a useless overhead on the key tasks at hand (teaching and research).

This flows both ways, as Greatrix himself points out. As Enterprise Architect, I work with Professional Services colleagues and I have heard some of them express opinions that clearly fail to understand the nature of academic work. Academics cannot be treated as if they were factory workers, churning out lectures on a treadmill.

I think these comments reveal a fundamental clash of ideas about how a University should work. Some people who come into management positions for other sectors tend to frame the University as a business, with students and research funders as customers t…

Changing Principles

In EA, architecture principles set a framework for making architectural decisions.  They help to establish a common understanding across different groups of stakeholders, and provide guidance for portfolios and projects.  Michael Durso of the LSE gave a good introduction to the idea in a webinar last week for the UCISA EA community.

Many organisations take the TOGAF architecture principles as a starting point.  These are based on the four architectural domains of TOGAF: business, information/data, applications, technology/infrastructure.  These principles tend to describe what should be done, e.g. re-use applications, buy in software rather than build it, keep data secure.  See for example the principles adopted at Plymouth University and the University of Birmingham.

Recently though, I encountered a different way of looking at principles.  The user experience design community tend to focus more on how we should do things.  E.g. we should start with user needs, use iterative developm…