Following procedures” is not the same as “doing the right thing

Following procedures” is not the same as “doing the right thing.

This seems to be the main thesis of John Allspaw’s 9,300 article. It’s a great point, but he (possibly intentionally) overlooks the fact that good procedures save time and reduce risk EVERY TIME.

But in his article John goes so far out of his way to demonize procedures that he puts himself, almost comically on the other side. Just as one-dimensional as the people he’s criticizing.

Look at this example:

Consider the case of the 1949 US Mann Gulch disaster where firefighters who perished were the ones sticking to the organizational mandate to carry their tools everywhere.

OK, but what about the thousands of lives that are saved every year by firefighters who follow procedures? You know, the fire companies who coil their hoses so that they can get them off the truck quickly without knots. Or the fire companies who require that their firefighters drill a certain number of hours every year. Or the ones who only use OSHA approved gear.

Now, I’m obviously not saying that all procedures are good procedures.

20 years ago every auto manufacturer had processes and methodologies they followed to build cars. They all sucked. But then Toyota came around and said “you’re doing it wrong” and changed the way manufacturers work.



Jason – I must not have been able to get my point across effectively. I didn’t at all intend to demonize procedures.

I said “What is important to recognize is that procedures are but only one resource people use to do work” – people create safety by navigating their worlds with procedures, adapting them as needs arise. Procedures don’t do work by themselves, and expertise is what separates the novice who blindly follows procedures and the expert who adapts them to fit a given scenario.

Procedures have limits, just like you point out. They neither guarantee success or failure. Only people do.

Does that make sense?



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