“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”
“I don’t see much sense in that,” said Rabbit. “No,” said Pooh humbly, “there isn’t. But there was going to be when I began it. It’s just that something happened to it along the way.”
The first delightful quote from A.A. Milne talks about working without ever stopping to look around to find a better way. The second quote is about the opposite: metawork and hypowork.
- Work: when you do it you get closer to reaching your goal, it is real work
- Metawork: not work but makes work more efficient or more likely to be successful (e.g. project plan)
- Hypowork: useless activity from the viewpoint of the goal (e.g. gossip by the water cooler)
Both metawork and hypowork can be disguised as real work. For example writing code for irrelevant requirements is hypowork. When this happens on a regular basis, your organization will look like the following optical illusion. Things seem to be in motion, but nothing is really happening. Click to magnify:
It takes 30 minutes to set up a domain on GoDaddy.com, obtain the corresponding virtual server, and select the OS and the appropriate backup and disaster recovery options. Then you click a button and a Drupal image gets dropped on your partition and you can start building your content management solution. A few more clicks will turn the site to an online store that takes payments via credit cards.
On the other hand, the similar corporate process includes business case, project proposal, prioritization, resource and budget allocation, vendor selection, purchasing, delivery, racking, hooking up power, network, DHCP, DNS, AD, ntp, and monitoring. This will be followed by storage, backup, DR, firewall, and load-balancer configuration and Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl, and Drupal installations. Many meetings will be necessary including gate reviews, design reviews and more. Paperwork will be generated, such as the security plan and support procedures. Your environment will be added to the asset, configuration and change management processes and if you provide your cost center, you may even get an SLA. All this takes months in most organizations. And the services you will be getting are very similar to those of GoDaddy’s. Corporate meta and hypowork add an enormous overhead.
The Shirky Principle comes to mind: “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”
Work is necessary, metawork is necessary evil and hypowork is mostly evil. Some organizations follow strict philosophies to minimize meta and hypowork including an intentional stop on organizational growth.
The trick is to carefully balance real, meta, and hypowork both on the personal and on the organizational level. For this we have to figure out the current state:
Simply set up three buckets and throw the various activities into the appropriate container. The next step is to make sure that stuff in the work bucket gets high priority and enough metawork is done to make the real work efficient. Since we are humans, there is always some hypowork going on. Making real work more meaningful for you or for other people is better than blocking Facebook and YouTube. Transparency and open communication reduces office politics.
Following are some thoughts on various IT areas and their work profiles. If you want to use the bucket methodology, you can come up with your own customized list:
- Maintaining external and internal IT service levels: real work if it is based on real SLAs and KPIs.
- Creating new services or making existing services better: real work if it is based on good quality requirements and prioritization.
- Emails: continuous source of disruption and excuse for procrastination. Turns to hypo without constant attention.
- Office politics: Janus-faced necessary evil.
- Meetings: most of them are hypo, unless participants do their homework, and show up. Meetings have to have clear objectives, and action items captured.
- Core IT Processes (service, incident, problem, change, configuration, asset, capacity etc. management): metawork, as long as well implemented and lean. They can turn to hypo in a jiffy if you do not pay attention.
- Enterprise Architecture, IT Project Management, Cyber Security and Risk Management: serious hypowork candidates unless they are done in a smart way.
- IT Governance: real work should always be based on high quality decisions. Governance is helping the IT leaders to make good decisions. Governance is important metawork.
- Teaching/Learning: good metawork, especially if you have a methodical approach including succession planning, mentoring program, and a capability matrix.
Arrive to the office on Monday with three buckets and the firm determination to use them. Start with your own personal assessment and adjustments. If you find the results useful, roll out the buckets in your organization. Thanks Pooh, see you later.