The Way of the Razor
Whales, my friends, have a lot of blubber. If you’re going to do battle with a leviathan, you’ll have to trim some whale fat. Law of nature, sorry.
The Razor is the enforcer of bureaucratic parsimony. It’s wielded by us, Knights of Occam, the bureaucratic equivalent to Six Sigma Black Belts. Bureaucracy is a factory whose output is compliance. A good bureaucracy—like a good factory—is one that uses the least effort and lowest cost to produce its product and can produce it fastest.
The Razor strives for minimal viable compliance— meaning the fewest number of constraints consistent with the company’s situation and risk posture—and strives to achieve its desired controls with as little whale bulk as possible. The Razor trims bloated bureaucracy into lean bureaucracy; ponderous whales into sleek and speedy marlin; trolls into trainers. A visit to the Razor provides a shave and a haircut that costs less than two bits and makes a whale spiffy and fun to swim with. This next set of tactics is from the playbook of the Razor.
- Step Out of the Circle: The less risk, the less oversight that’s needed. Only do small projects.
- Shrink Everything to Skunk Size: Don’t just make projects smaller—make them smaller in a way that truly reduces risk, because that’s what justifies a simpler oversight process.
- Shift Left: Shift left uses guardrails to create a framework within which delivery teams can be creative.
- Respect Diminishing Returns: The goal of 100% causes waste and bloat; a simple acknowledgement of diminishing returns was the key to trimming it.
- Promote Transparency: Disasters are often public; the costs of guarding against them are not. This difference allows blubbery bureaucracy to flourish, perhaps even incentivizes it.
- Apply Lean Techniques: Even within a bureaucratic structure, we can enforce lean practices around waiting times, handoffs, rework, over specification, learning the rules and more.
User’s Guide to the Razor
By all means, look at your value streams and see where bureaucracy is adding to your lead times! Calculate its cost, in lead time and dollars, then find ways to reduce it while still mitigating the same risks and achieving the same results. Keep in mind:
- The Razor reduces your costs, sometimes significantly, as a byproduct of reducing your lead times.
- If you have a choice between reducing productive activities and reducing watching or wasteful (in other words non-lean) compliance efforts, think carefully . . .
- You can’t just shave once and be done with it. You gotta do it every day. Under the blubber there may be more blubber.
- Razoring is the easiest aspect of digital transformation to sell to others. Who doesn’t want to eliminate waste? The CEO and CFO, in particular, are likely to be supportive if you show them data.