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Anders Ellerstrand: Procedures – What about them?

In 2013, Andrew Hale and David Borys wrote a paper with the title: “Working to rule, or working safely?”. In it, they compare two different views on rules. One view is a classic top-down view, where rules act as limits of freedom of choice and violations are seen as negative. The other view is a bottom-up view. Here rules are constructions of operators as experts and competence is seen as the ability to adapt rules to the diversity of reality.

Sidney Dekker is debating this topic in many of his books, with lots of examples of poor use of regulations. Dekker´s latest book (I bought it but haven’t read it yet…) is called ‘Compliance Capitalism – How Free Markets Have Led to Unfree, Overregulated Workers’. Robert J. de Boer, in his book ‘Safety Leadership’, has a chapter called: “Alignment between Rules and Reality’.

One of the problems with procedures is this gap between the procedures and how things are done in real life. This is also frequently discussed, for example by Erik Hollnagel when he compares ‘Work-as-Imagined’ (the procedures) and ‘Work-as-Done’ (real life). This is further expanded by Steven Shorrock in his posts about ‘The Varieties of Human Work’ on www.humanistcsystems.com.

The topic of rules, regulations and procedures is interesting and the more you read and think about it the more complex it becomes. Why do we have them? Are they really that important? Who should write them and how should they be used? Could procedures be a problem, perhaps even the problem? This is really a topic for one or several books, but I will limit my attempt to a few posts in this blog, with my own reflections on some of the aspects.

Based on Hale and Bory’s paaper, and on the book by Boer, I suggest five good reasons for procedures (or rules or regulations) and will discuss each one in turn, in coming posts on the blog:
1. Procedures as part of a design process
2. Procedures as a ‘memory aid’
3. Procedures to assist in training
4. Procedures to enable collaboration
5. Procedures as a normative function

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