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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Turning the tide? 

Today on the BBC News site was a report that the Police are beginning to realise that too much time is spent on paperwork than in catching criminals and that assessing individual officers on targets (e.g. number of arrests) is counter-productive.

See: Police condemn 'target culture'

This is effectively, the quick win scenario. Why should an officer spend months tracking down the cases that matter when he or she can get loads more brownie points arresting someone in possession of a water pistol?

This target culture is prevalent all over our society. We are told that we can only be seen to succeed if our success can be measured and our success can only be measured if it can be quantified, i.e. produce lots of paper.

I have to do it in my job by writing requirements, design and test documents. The fun part, writing software, is often buried. We have a Quality person here who once issued a timeline for a software project that included time for writing hordes of documents but managed to neglect the time to actually write the software. She was so focussed on how the software development process was to be documented that the actual process of writing the software was neglected.

We've seen it happen elsewhere: Schools (exams, exams, exams), Hospitals (you're on the waiting list - you're next - oh, sorry, we've had to cancel your appointment), Customer Care departments that are more interested in issuing form letters than actually solving your problem ... The list goes on.

I'm trying to see the Police comments as a sign that the tide could turn and that we return to a sensible balance between doing what we do and documenting what we do.

I hope that's the case. There is a place for records. They are useful but they are not an end in themselves. They assist us so that we know what we've done and can prove to others what we've done but when they get in the way or actively cause good work to not be done then we should question their worth.

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