I’ve just started Mark Schwartz’s newly published book, “The Delicate Art of Bureaucracy, Digital Transformation with the Monkey, the Razor, and the Sumo Wrestler,” and like his 2017 book, “A Seat at the Table,” it is an excellent read. Mark Schwartz, by the way is the one that is credited to helping bring Agile into the Federal Government when he was the CIO at USCIS and this book is a reflection of his experiences in government and how big government can become more agile and efficient.
Schwartz says that although we have a natural aversion to bureaucracy, we can’t manage without it. I remember in one of my first meetings right out of school while working for a large company, one of my managers slammed his fist on the table and proclaimed, “I am not a bureaucrat,” implying that this was a bad thing. And Schwartz has several stories like the $3000 coffee pot and where the Army spent $5400 and 160 days to save $100 on $11,000 in spare parts.
Schwartz also mentioned that shortly after he first joined US Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) and EOD’d (entered on duty) he sat in on a meeting to discuss making a minor change to the USCIS webpage and was told it would take eight months to make the change. Why? MD-102, Management Directive 102, a DHS policy used for overseeing the delivery of IT systems. It defined 21 distinct roles in the oversight process. Not exactly agile…. Like a Chaos Monkey, Schwartz and his team determined that the only way to change the process was to invoke the monkey—to provoke and observe.
Like a sumo wrestler (think use your opponent’s strength against them) Schwartz and his team investigated new ways to improve the process and came up with a solution—a new Management Directive, which they named MIS-CIS-OIT-001, which carefully defined what they meant by agile. Although, technically a non-policy, since Schwartz didn’t have the authority to create his own Directive, it worked well. Outcomes like “frequent delivery of valuable product,” and “work that flows in small batches and is validated,” were among the desired outcomes.
Finally, by invoking Occam’s Razor (think: don’t add extra work that doesn’t add value) Schwartz trimmed procurement times and up-front business case building, and created almost instant infrastructure access via the cloud.
Schwartz summed things up this way:
“By mastering the ways of the Monkey, the Sumo Wrestler, and the Razor, we not only transformed IT, but we’d also set up checks and balances to make sure it stayed transformed. We’d gone from releasing new IT capabilities once every eighteen months to three times a day for some of our IT systems. We’d taken a project that had been “underway” –writing documents but not doing anything –for four years, and in just six weeks begun deploying new IT capabilities that had measurable, meaningful business impact.
Now that’s what bureaucracy can do!”