usable in any place a human can be used



[caption id="attachment_677" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Wait until he meets the Undersecretary for Reduction Planning and Appropriation\'s new Assistant"]pentagon bureaucracy cartoon[/caption]

Bureaucracy, long the scourge of people who want to git-r-dun. There are some people out there that hate bureaucracy with a passion I can only really muster up for the pending zombie apocalypse. Make no mistake about it, I dislike bureaucracy, I think it is a wasteful but sometimes necessary evil. I've found myself ensnared in a bureaucratic nightmare for the last few months so I thought I would jot down some observations on bureaucracy.

Zombie Bureaucracy

(Wow lots of zombies in this post so far) A Zombie Bureaucracy is a bureaucracy that had some reason (however flimsy) for existing in the past but no longer needs to exist. Not unlike a zombie this bureaucracy manages to live long past its usefulness shambling into the future pointless and frustrating. This is caused by the ease that more bureaucracy can be created, at the stroke of an email someone can dream up a committee or process, but the difficulty in disbanding bureaucracy. It is disproportionately difficult to reduce bureaucracy because it looks like work, and people don't like having their work taken away, it reduces their sense of job security.

Dev: Why do I need 3 developers to sign off on every commit?
Mgr: Because 4 years ago two of the lead developers got into a pissing war over code formatting
Dev: Why didn't they just work it out?
Mgr: Because they had huge egos and management was too scared to fire either one
Dev: Is this still going on?
Mgr: No, Frank left 3.5 years ago because he didn't want to put up with Mark anymore
Dev: So why do I still need 3 developers to sign off on every commit?
Mgr: Because 4 years ago.... I guess it doesn't make much sense anymore.... That's the way it is!

Just like misery, bureaucracy love company

Bureaucracy is an attempt to control something, to take organic chaotic processes and make them orderly. The problem that often arises is that bureaucracy is its own organic chaotic system, that then requires more bureaucracy ad infinitum. If you've ever been in a meeting where all you decided was the schedule of meetings, congratulations, you are in the Matryoshka doll hell of bureaucracy.


I loathe meetings, a bunch of people talking about the work they could be doing if they weren't in meetings all the damn time. Meetings are seductive, they sound and feel and look like work, but they are occupational masturbation. No one has ever brought a product to market because they were able to make it to 10 meetings a day. Meetings have almost no value, sometimes they are necessary, but not nearly as common as corporate culture would have you believe.

And the rest...

[caption id="attachment_683" align="alignleft" width="289" caption="Forgot to file the A34C-Bh amendment releasing liability for tongue trauma"]hot tamales candy box[/caption]

I could go on and on, but I will cut the rant short and get to the point. Bureaucracy at its core is about trust, or more importantly the lack thereof. I don't have my girlfriend fill out the A34C-B form (Confirmation of Confection Purchase Agreement) before running to the store to ensure that she understands that I would like her to pick me up some Hot Tamales. I trust her at her word, there is no need for such ridiculous formalities.

When an organization has enshrined itself in a monument of bureaucracy what it is really saying is, "We've been burned before and now we don't trust you." We don't trust you to deploy your code correctly, we don't trust you to design things properly, we don't trust you to do X, so let's get a bunch of people together to review it. This is fine in small doses, frankly I want people to review my code and my designs, I make mistakes like everyone else. But when taken to the extreme it takes a toll on your motivation, on your creativity, and on any preconceptions that you knew what you were doing. Bureaucracy is the surest way to crush your workforce into a homogeneous mix, you will catch the awful at the expense of the great.


  1. This is a fine post Matt, keep 'em coming. Glad the carpet ripping is almost done. Didn't see it on HN

  2. Some good thoughts, which I can definitely agree with, for the most part.

    However, speaking from my personal experience, a complete absence of bureaucracy is a terrible thing as well. Working in an environment where poor coding standards, faulty algorithms, sluggish performance, and apathy about introducing new bugs all have no real consequences can be incredibly demoralizing. On days where I arrive to find the code I had written the night before no longer working, with nobody willing to take responsibility, I start to yearn for an environment where every commit requires 3 devs to sign off on.

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