BlackBerry as a Substitute for Process

The penetration of BlackBerries and alike in enterprises is continuously rising. First an exclusive gadget for the higher management, it is now being distributed to anyone who is supposedly to be non-stop reachable. At the same time, I haven’t seen any improvement in generated business value, efficiency or quality. In fact, if there is anything these devices have accomplished, it is a decrease in all of those: business value, efficiency and quality.

Before I continue, I have to give credit where credit is due. Seasoned blog readers might recognize the title “BlackBerry as a Substitute for Process”. I was inspired by the blog article “Process as a Substitute for Competence” from the Kill The Meeting blog. An excellent article and I strongly encourage everyone to hop over and read it. Secondly, I refer almost solely to “BlackBerry” when in fact I mean any hand held device that allows you to read your email any time in any place.

BlackBerries are sold with the promise you can read and reply to your email whenever you want and wherever you are. I state that this very feature is what makes BlackBerries a liability in your company’s strategy for quality, efficiency and overall improvement. BlackBerries make sure that whatever you have in place that might look like a process, is rapidly turned into a relic of the past.

Let’s consider two opposites. On one side we have a company that is focusing on (business) process improvement on the other side we have a company that doesn’t really care. History has shown us that you want to be working for the first company. Sure, no doubt that second company talks a lot about processes, they probably even have working groups, steering committees and overall projects to get better processes in place. It is however easy to burst that bubble by observing these simple facts:

  • Spreadsheet after spreadsheet is introduced to manage those processes.
  • Managers are more focused on and spending most of their time in short-term tactical issues instead of long-term process improvement.
  • If quality is measured at all, it is done by periodic sampling.
  • Your backlog is growing, or at least not reducing.
  • Cost reduction is the phrase in meetings.
  • Whenever process improvement is mentioned, it is actually about automation, not improvement.

Now, these symptoms would show me that you are not managing the process but you are more into incident management. Managing by incident is a dead end: costs will continue to increase, quality is a distant dream and different departments or business units will slowly start to distrust each other. With managing by incident, you are fixing the past and not creating the future.

The key to sustaining and fueling management by incident is to make it easy to act on incidents. The easier it is to “fix them”, the less pain those incidents will cause. BlackBerries are one key element in this, by giving you immediate access to email and the ability to reply to it almost instantly. You have made fixing incidents easier. Victory? Not at all, you just sank a little deeper in the quick sand incident management really is.

But wait, BlackBerries, a marvelous invention, how could we manage our company without it? How could we survive without email! Those who think email is a key element to success are fools. Don’t forget, we managed to find America, build the Suez canal and put men on the moon without the help of email, let alone BlackBerries. Those people knew the value of proper communication, processes and procedures. They made sure that when they left a meeting everyone knew what they had to do. Simply because each would go their own way and it was time consuming and expensive to communicate afterwards.

Today, people come and go at meetings, not caring about agendas, action lists or meeting minutes. Because they all know that it is so easy to email each other to get the blanks filled in.

My advice: think twice before introducing BlackBerries. They are a fine piece of technology and can be a real value to your company. But they can also fuel management by incident, a dangerous thing to happen.