Bonfire of the bureaucracy?

Jul 16, 2021

Minimum Viable bureaucracy.

This term came through earlier this week concerning agile and the deployment of innovation at scale.
I confess that I was caught up in the vocabulary and couldn't register how bureaucracy would fit into the cycle of innovation. I pondered for quite some time, delving into the value of bureaucracy.
Very often, for small businesses, I see the frustration that procurement guidelines and regulations get in the way of progress. Contracts and tenders that come up, for example, require hoops to be jumped, such as indemnity insurance or the ISO 9001.
I can understand the rationale of the procuring agency to ask for those excellent standards. It's a form of building in assurance or even clearly handing over liability to another party. And yet, I can sense the challenge acutely felt by small businesses to be agile and nimble, to reduce down the level of friction.
So when I heard the phrase, "Minimum Viable Bureaucracy," I was hesitant to endorse it. Why put power into processes that accidentally restrict growth?
A lot of my commentary around change covers the personal aspects of leadership. Both leadership of self and those around you, even extending to leadership across a community. I realise that I haven't covered the importance of embedding innovation within structures and decision-making processes.
After all, bureaucracy exists to give certainty, safety, accountability. Even McKinsey experts, in their Seven S framework, talk about the importance of considering systems when making change. I know from the rapid changes that I've implemented how important it is to anchor that change energy into formal systems.
As a leader, you need to build up that initial energy and excitement for your team; you need to build up momentum. As the power needs to infuse the hearts and minds of groups, so it needs to transfer into the organisation fabric.
When you're not in the room, as the weeks or months go by, you need to find a way to anchor in the ambition to sustain the vision you're striving for.
You know, as humans, we often crave certainty and safety. We do like to know where we're going after all and the forms we use, the processes that we follow.
Let's consider regulation. Health, education, and care providers especially are swamped with regulators. However, this signals excellence; it endorses great work. It builds confidence.
Would you consent to surgery without any regulation in place?
Would you fly in a plane without rules?
Or consider the concept of plug and play between different bodies. Regulation helps to create standards that support exchange and a combination of innovation. It can prevent a monopoly environment where there are few winners.
And so, systems can be critical. Give us just enough to provide that sense of safety. Enough for us to know what our boundaries and parameters are. And we can flourish within them.
So would I advocate for a world without any transparent process or bureaucracy? No, but I do advocate for just enough.
For the minimum viable.

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