The story goes something like this. The archduke and duchess were returning by carriage to one of their palaces in the countryside. As the carriage approached, the duchess remarked about the beauty of a single solitary flower that had grown up in the middle of the courtyard. The archduke quickly ordered a guard stand watch by the flower 24 hours a day to keep it from being trampled thus ensuring the duchess could continue to enjoy the flower throughout their stay at the palace. Several decades later, obviously long after the flower had withered and was gone (as well as the duke and duchess), someone asked why a guard was being routinely posted on that very spot twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
There’s a lot of process in companies today that, much like the guard that was posted in the courtyard, continues on long after its usefulness and purpose has withered. Those processes no longer matter to a business and should be pruned but no one asks the all-important questions. The people doing the work don’t ask, the leaders don’t ask, no one asks.
I once asked the leader of a particular department in the State during a Q&A after he had just proudly announced their new Lean initiative if he was going to do anything to get rid of process or was he just going to optimize something that shouldn’t exist in the first place. After some brief laughter it was apparent he hadn’t thought about that.
If you want to do work that matters, ask the questions “Why does this work matter? How does it create value?” If you can’t answer those related questions, it’s time to stop posting a guard.