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A standardised approach can suit needs

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Chris King of the Clinical Research Network: Picture by Matt Gore iconbusinessmedia

I hate shopping. It offers no pleasure, no relief, only frustration. The constant fight with sizings as you move from shop to shop is infuriating. How have I gained or lost a size simply by crossing the street?

It’s the lack of standards I hate. A size is a size, surely?

Ask a man what waist he is and often he will need to consult the ancient mystics before confirming: “Are we talking trousers, jeans or pants?”. Ask him what size foot he is and you might get a similar response linked to trainers, formal shoes or width fittings.

For standards rarely seem to exist in the clothing world. Even where the form of fit, in this case the inch, should lend itself to an exacting standard being applied. But no. One man’s inch is another man’s 2.54 centimeters is another man’s small, medium or large. 

It’s worse for women. Boy is it worse for women. In my youth I used to work in a high street American clothing company. As the day moved on I would move around the shop, often working the women’s section as I did; surrounded by confused looks and pained expressions.

“Is this an American 10? What is that in British sizes? Do you have something that fits a British woman in this shop?”

It’s interesting then, that when I return to work to escape the madness of trousers and shoes, that I find a lot of negativity comes from the traditional need for standards and standardised approaches to be used. The phrase “we do it this way” is often followed by a lengthy debate as to why people don’t want to do it that way, how project management approaches add only paperwork when the path and direction is painfully obvious.

The standard way is a complicated way. Or is it? Or is the standard way there to support and protect you against mistake, your own culpability; ignorance?

As I develop and work with teams of varying shapes and sizes throughout my leadership pathway, I find myself torn between wanting to adopt specific ways of working – especially around change management and code development – without wanting to make others feel as though I am blocking their way. Sure, a minor tweak to a bit of code you can roll back is not going to bring the organisation to a grinding halt, but what if that minor tweak sits on a series of other minor tweaks, and before long, no one is quite sure how far we can, nor need to roll back. That’s not failing fast as people want us to do these days, that’s remaining confused for a very long time. Unnecessarily so.

Helping others to know why standards and standardised approaches exist is as equally as important as it is to know when standards can be relaxed. If something doesn’t need the rigour of PRINCE2 or ITIL, don’t use them. But if something you are working on does need those controls in place, as a leader, it is important to understand how to make your teams clear as to the reasons why, so that they don’t try to circumvent the approach – simply because they despise bureaucracy.

And it is with that most hated of words, bureaucracy, that I find the birth of new ideas start to flourish. Very few people like to be weighed down by paperwork, so listening to the challenges of those that have to document every minute of their working existence, merely to meet the standards expected of them, is a great way to find out how we really should be running things. How we should, where appropriate, accept culpability and ignorance are no reason to hold up enthusiasm and results. JFDI is an acronym that springs to mind. Even if it is one not suitable for further expansion on these pages.

This still doesn’t help me with my pursuit to buy a pair of jeans without having to think what shop I am in, where we are in the lunar cycle or what I might be eating for lunch later whilst wearing them; but it does help me work with teams where sometimes, the need to get on is greater than the need to agree how we will get on. 

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