Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 25;   June 20, 2001: Illegal Dumping

Illegal Dumping

by

To solve problems, we change existing policies or processes, or we create new ones. We try to make things better and sometimes we actually succeed. More often, we create new problems — typically, for someone else.

When we solve one problem by creating other problems somewhere else, we're Dumping. Most of the time, we dump problems without the permission of the people who end up receiving them. Some examples:

  • Finance announces a lower maximum for petty cash purchases — $50. Some purchases that formerly came from petty cash must now use the requisition process.
  • To expand employee parking, visitor parking is eliminated. When you expect visitors, explain to them which part of the Fire Lane to park in while they run inside for a visitor pass that lets them into the employee parking area.
  • I say we ship the product as it is. Let Customer Service deal with the bug reports until the bug-fix release.

Why do we dump?

Illegal trash dumpShortcomings in accounting systems insulate problem-solvers from the problems they dump. For example, many organizations know the cost of processing requisitions, but few know the cost of preparing them. Since these costs lie outside the Finance department, Finance rarely knows the impact of lowering the petty cash limit, which might actually increase organizational expenses.

In the parking lot example, the gain of spaces is lower than it seems, because visitors now use the employee lot. And since cars now park temporarily in the Fire Lane, there's more risk of fire damage and injury. Unrecognized costs make the parking change less attractive than it seems, but we don't know by how much.

In the product release example, Marketing is free to press for premature shipment, because the increased cost of customer complaints comes not from Marketing but from Customer Service.

Shortcomings in
accounting systems
insulate problem-solvers
from the problems
they dump on others
Sometimes there's a positive incentive to dump. In the petty-cash example, we can expect an increase in purchase requisitions, which lowers the average cost of processing them. Cynical financial managers can thus improve their own organizational performance by depressing the performance of their internal customers.

Here are three ways to deal with dumping.

Don't dump
When you devise solutions to problems, avoid dumping. Collaborate. If others play a role in the solution, they should play a role in devising that solution.
Educate
Educate others about dumping. When everyone understands the concept, problem solutions are less likely to involve dumping.
Require impact statements
Require authors of procedural changes to prepare impact statements that estimate total organizational costs. Shift the focus from local departmental accountability to global impact.
Compensate dumpees
When costs shift, adjust budgets. You might have to be a manager or executive to do this, but if you are, recognize your responsibility. Don't permit one part of your organization to shift burdens to others without paying for the privilege.

If you can control dumping, dumping gains no advantage. This lets the steam out of much of organizational politics — and we all know how much time we spend on politics. Go to top Top  Next issue: Stay in Your Own Hula Hoop  Next Issue

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