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October 16, 2020

Announcing The (Delicate) Art of Bureaucracy

By Mark Schwartz

I’m excited to announce the publication of my fourth book, The (Delicate) Art of Bureaucracy: Digital Transformation with the Monkey, the Razor, and the Sumo Wrestler.

Despite the whimsical title, it’s about a critical concern of enterprises transitioning to the cloud and trying to thrive in the digital economy. From my meetings with enterprise AWS customers, I know that bureaucracy is often an impediment to digital transformation. It acts to slow down or prevent innovation and adaptation. It adds overhead and waste and causes confrontational behaviors between different parts of an enterprise. In a digital economy, where speed is of the essence, bureaucracy is a sticky goo that makes rapid movement impossible.

Before joining Amazon Web Services, I was the CIO of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, in the US Department of Homeland Security. There, I got a firsthand look at bureaucracy and its dynamics—both its drawbacks and (surprising as it may sound) its benefits. I had a chance to try different approaches to making DevOps, user-centric design, the cloud, and other digital methodologies effective despite bureaucratic resistance. Perhaps some of you have heard my stories about DHS’s project oversight process that required 87 documents and 11 stage gate reviews, and defined 21 different oversight roles. In short, I learned a lot about bureaucracy and how to cope with it.

Bureaucracy is not unique to government, though. You’ll find it in every organization that has grown past a certain size. Some industries (financial services, perhaps?) tend to have more of it and some (gaming, perhaps?) have less; some companies have woven themselves more deeply into a bureaucratic web (older ones, typically) and some are just now figuring out how to do so. Bureaucracy is virtually required by many compliance frameworks, which insist on documented, enforced, auditable rules and signoffs by authorities. Bureaucratic webs grow ever denser as a company finds new ways to solve problems that it wants to remember—and therefore captures as standard operating procedures to be enforced in every case. It’s imposed on employees by management that wants to control activity, and on management by employees whose unions want to restrict managers’ discretion and their potentially arbitrary decisions. Bureaucracy is everywhere around us.

My book explores bureaucracy and why it exists, and proposes a model in which we can make bureaucracy lean, learning, and enabling—the three characteristics of good, not evil, bureaucracies. It then provides a playbook for busting through bureaucratic impediments, divided into the way of the Monkey, the way of the Razor, and the way of the Sumo Wrestler. As in my previous books, I have some fun bringing in history, philosophy, literature, and…well, I don’t want to spoil the surprises—to present different ways of looking at the challenges and to suggest different solutions.

I’m hoping the book will be useful to the AWS customers I work with, and to all of you on the digital journey! I offer it up as a contribution to the literature on digital transformation and—as you’ll learn in the book—a sacrifice to the ancient Egyptian deity Khepri. Enjoy!


This post was originally published on the AWS Cloud Enterprise Strategy Blog.

- About The Authors
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Mark Schwartz

Mark Schwartz is an iconoclastic CIO and a playful crafter of ideas, an inveterate purveyor of lucubratory prose. He has been an IT leader in organizations small and large, public, private, and nonprofit. As the CIO of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, he provokes the federal government into adopting Agile and DevOps practices. He is pretty sure that when he was the CIO of Intrax Cultural Exchange he was the first person ever to use business intelligence and supply chain analytics to place au pairs with the right host families. Mark speaks frequently on innovation, bureaucratic implications of DevOps, and Agile processes in low-trust environments. With a computer science degree from Yale and an MBA from Wharton, Mark is either an expert on the business value of IT or just confused and much poorer.

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