When is Helping, Hurting? Or, Another Example of Why Handoffs Should Not Be Documents

Sometimes, when you try to help, the outcome is less than desirable.

It’s like helping your kids with their homework.  Helping is one thing; doing it for them is something else entirely.  Sure, their grades are maintained, but at what cost?

The other day, I was working through a negotiation to get a non-standard package approved for use.  The problem was that the negotiation I was doing needs to be done by someone else in the group so that when I leave the group they will have a sense of how to get what they need.

I discussed this briefly with one of my co-workers and agreed to put together a kind of brain-dump email about how to go about the negotiation with some contacts, some suggested points, and some background so that he could do the official negotiation.  I’d already started the back-channel process by letting folks know that something would be coming through and laying an unofficial case.

I should say that I was on a floating holiday yesterday (Independence Day’s on Saturday) so the fact that I was checking my mail was purely by chance, but I received the official notice of the exception application for the non-standard package. 

What!?

My email had specifically said, “Talk to this guy first.” and “Send the license to this guy before you submit.”, etc.

Then I noticed an email to the first guy – after the application was filed – and I thought, “I said, TALK to him.”  I’m sure the license for the other fellow is in the mail too.

The whole point was to talk to the people in my email, get a sense of whether there were objections, and answer those concerns in the application.

Instead, my co-worker simply cut and pasted chunks of my email directly into the application – including some of the discussion points I’d included to help him with the VERBAL negotiations..

This bothers me on at least two levels. 

One is about the state of the organization and management maturity.

My co-worker is a guy further up the food chain from me.  What does that say about the organization’s ability to get what it needs in a larger whole?

I’m afraid that because of the lack of understanding and finesse exhibited by my co-worker, the application will have a tougher time than was necessary.

The other, is that I’m reading a book about reducing waste in processes, and I should know better: Documents as handoffs are a big generator of waste.

Handoffs should be higher bandwidth communication than a simple chat and an email.  So by sending the email, I was delivering a document with lots of content, but very little of the tacit knowledge that I have about the process – who to talk to, and how to talk to them.

What I should have done is say, “Tell you what; when I get back from my trip we’ll sit down in your office and go through the process.  That way, you’ll get to see how these things progress from back-channel discussions, to managing concerns, to the official application.”

Back to my first concern, I’m pretty sure he would’ve insisted he didn’t have time for pairing on a negotiation like that, and to send him an email explaining everything.

It seems like I fumbled the hand-off.  Or maybe I’m a control freak, and everything will be fine.

I guess we’ll see.

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