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Feb 16 2013

A Very Potter Audit – A Best Practices Parable

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Once upon a time there lived a rather round wizard named Hocklart who worked at the FogWorts school of witchcraft and wizardry. Hocklart was a very proud wizard, perhaps the proudest in all of FogWorts. His pride did not stem from being a great wizard or a great teacher; in reality, he was neither of those. In fact Hocklart was never much good at wizardry itself, but he knew a lot of people who were – and therein lay the reason for his pride. For what Hocklart lacked in magic ability, he more than made up for with his attention to detail, love of process and determination to rise to the top. From the day he arrived at FogWorts as one apprentice amongst many, he was the first to realise that the influential wizards liked to unwind on Friday nights with a cold ale at the Three and a Half Broomsticks Inn. Hocklart sacrificed many Friday nights at that pub, shouting rounds of frothy brew to thirsty senior wizards, befriending them all, listening to their stories and building up peerless knowledge of FogWorts organisational politics and juicy gossip.

This organisational knowledge brought just enough influence for Hocklart to climb the corporate ladder ahead of his more magically adept colleagues and presently he was very proud. As far as Hocklart was concerned, he had the most important job in all of FogWorts – Manager of the Department Responsible for the Integrity of Potions (or DRIP for short).

You see, in schools of witchcraft and wizardry, wizards and witches concoct all sorts of potions for all sorts of magical purposes. Potions of course require various ingredients in just the right amount and often prepared in just the right way. Some of these ingredients are highly dangerous and need to be handed with utmost care, while others might be harmless by themselves, but dangerous when mixed with something else or prepared incorrectly. Obviously one has to be careful in such a situation because a mix-up could be potentially life threatening or at the very least, turn you into some sort of rodent or small reptile.

The real reason why Hocklart was proud was because of his DRIP track record. You see, over the last six years, Hocklart had ensured that Fogwarts met all its statutory regulatory requirements as per the International Spell-casters Standards Organisation (ISSO). This included the “ISSO 9000 and a half” series of standards for quality management as well as the “ISSO 14000 and a sprinkle more” series for Environmental Management and Occupational Health and Safety. (Like all schools of witchcraft and wizardry, Fogwarts needed to maintain these standards to keep their license to operate current and in good standing).

When Hocklart became manager of DRIP, he signed himself up for a week-long training course to understand the family of ISSO standards in great detail. Enlightened by this training, he now appreciated the sort of things the ISSO auditors would likely audit FogWorts on. Accordingly, he engaged expensive consultants from an expensive consultancy to develop detailed management plans in accordance with wizardry best practices. To deliver this to the detail that Hocklart required, the consultants conjured a small army of business analysts, enterprise architects, system administrators, coordinators, admin assistants, documenters, quality engineers and asset managers who documented all relevant processes that were considered critical to safety and quality for potions.

Meticulous records were kept of all activities and these were sequestered in a secure filing room which was, among other things, guaranteed to be spell-proof. Hocklart was particularly fond of this secure filing room, with its rows and rows of neatly labelled, colour coded files that lovingly held Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each potion ingredient. These sheets provided wizards the procedures for handling or working with the ingredients in a safe manner, including information of interest to wizards such as fulmination point, spell potency, extra-magical strength, reversal spells as well as routine data such as boiling point, toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, protective equipment and spill-handling procedures. All potion ingredients themselves were stored in the laboratory in jars with colour coded lids that represented the level of hazard and spell-potency. Ever the perfectionist, Hocklart ensured that all jars had the labels perfectly aligned, facing the front. The system was truly was a thing of beauty and greatly admired by all and sundry, including past ISSO auditors, who were mesmerised by what they saw (especially the colour coded filing system and the symmetry of the labels of the jars).

And so it came to pass that for six years Hocklart, backup up by his various consultants and sub-contractors, saw off every ISSO auditor who ever came to audit things. All of them left FogWorts mightily impressed, telling awestruck tales of Hocklart’s quality of documentation, attention to detail and beautiful presentation. This made Hocklart feel good inside. He was a good wizard…nay, a great one: no one in the wizard-world had emerged from an ISSO audit unscathed more than twice in a row…

On the seventh year of his term as FogWarts head of DRIP, Hocklart’s seventh audit approached. Although eagerly waiting to impress the new auditor (as he did with all the previous auditors), Hocklart did not want to appear overly prepared, so he tried to look as nonchalant as possible by casually reviewing a draft memo he was working on as the hour approached. Only you and I, and of course Hocklart himself, knew that in the weeks prior to today, Hocklart was at his meticulous best in his preparation. He had reviewed all of the processes and documentation and made sure it was all up to date and watertight. There was no way fault could be found.

Presently, there was a rap on the open door, and in walked the auditor.

“Potter – Chris Potter,” the gentleman introduced himself. “Hocklart I presume?”

Hocklart had never met Potter before so as they shook hands he sized up his opponent. The first thing he noticed was that Potter wasn’t carrying anything – no bag, notebook and not even a copy of the ISSO standards. “Have you been doing this sort of work long?” he enquired.

“Long enough,” came the reply. “Let’s go for a walk…”

“Sure,” replied Hocklart. “Where would you like to go?”

For what seemed like an uncomfortably long time to Hocklart, Potter was silent. Then he replied, “Let’s go and have a look at the lab.”

Ha! Nice try, thought Hocklart as he led the auditor to the potion laboratory. Yesterday I had the lab professionally cleaned with a high potency Kleenit spell and we did a stocktake of the ingredients the week before.

Potter cast his sharp eyes around as they walked (as is common with auditors), but remained silent. Soon enough they arrived at a gleaming, most immaculate lab, with nothing out of place. Without a word, Potter surveyed the scene and walked to the shelves of jars that held the ingredients, complete with colour coded lids and perfectly aligned labels. He picked up one of the red labelled jars that contained Wobberworm mucus – a substance that, while not fatal, was known to cause damage if not handled with care. Holding the jar, he turned to Hocklart.

“You have a Materials Safety Data Sheet for this?”

Hocklart grinned. “Absolutely… would you like to see it?”

Potter did not answer. Instead he continued to examine the jar. After another uncomfortable silence, Potter looked up announcing, “I’ve just got this in my eyes.” His eyes fixed on Hocklart.

Hocklart looked at Potter in confusion. The Wobberworm mucus was certainly not in Potter’s eyes because the jar had not been opened.

“What?” he asked hesitantly.

Potter, eyes unwaveringly locked on Hocklart, remained silent. The silence seemed an eternity to Hocklart. A quick glance at his watch then Potter, holding up the jar in his hand, repeated more slowly, “I’ve just got this in my eyes.”

Hocklart’s heart rate began to rise. What is this guy playing at? He asked himself. Potter, meanwhile, looked at his watch again, looked back at Hocklart and sighed. “It’s been a minute now and my eye’s really starting to hurt. I risk permanent eye damage here… What should you be doing?”

A trickle of sweat rolled down Hocklart’s brow. He had not anticipated this at all.

Potter waited, sighed again and grated, “Where is the Materials Safety Data Sheet with the treatment procedure?”

A cog finally shifted in Hocklart’s mind as he realised what Potter was doing. Whilst he was mightily annoyed that Potter had caught him off guard (he would have to deal with that later), right now however he had to play Potter’s game and win.

“We have a secure room with all of that information,” he replied proudly. “I can’t have any of the other wizards messing with my great filing system, it’s my system…”

“Well,” Potter grated, “let’s get in there. My eye isn’t getting any better standing here.”

Hocklart gestured to a side door. “They are in there.” But as he said it his heart skipped a beat as a sense of dread came over him.

“It’s… “ he stammered then cleared his throat. “It’s locked.”

Potter looked straight into Hocklart with a stare that seemed to pierce his very soul. “Now I’m in agony,” he stated. “Where is the key?”

“I keep it in my office…” he replied.

“Well,” Potter said, “I now have permanent scarring on my eye and have lost partial sight. You better get it pronto…”

Hocklart continued to stare at Potter for a moment in disbelief, before turning and running out of the room as fast as his legs could carry his rotund body.

It is common knowledge that wizards are not known for being renowned athletes, and Hocklart was no exception. Nevertheless, he hurtled down corridors, up stairs and through open plan cubicles as if he was chased by a soulsucker. He steamed into his office, red faced and panting. Sweat poured from his brow as he flung a picture from the wall, revealing a safe. With shaking hands, he entered the combination and got it wrong twice before managing to open the safe door. He grabbed the key, turned and made for the lab as if his life depended on it.

Potter was standing exactly where he was, and said nothing as Hocklart surged into the room and straight to the door. He unlocked the door and burst into the secure room. Recalling the jar had a red lid, Hocklart made a beeline for the shelf of files with red labels, grabbed the one labelled with the letter W for Wobberworm and started to flick through it. To his dismay, there was no sign of a material safety data sheet for Wobberworm mucus.

“It’s…it’s not…it’s not here,” he stuttered weakly.

“Perhaps it was filed under “M” for mucus?” Potter offered.

“Yes that must be it”, cried Hocklart (who at this stage was ready to grasp at anything). He grabbed the file labelled M and flicked through each page. Sadly, once again there was no sign of Mucus or Wobberworm.

“Well,” said Potter looking at his watch again. “I’m now permanently blind in one eye… let’s see if we can save the other one eh? Perhaps there is a mismatch between the jar colour and the file?”

Under normal circumstances, Hocklart would snort in derision at such a suggestion, but with the clock ticking and one eye left to save, it seemed feasible.

“Dammit”, he exclaimed, “Someone must have mixed up the labels.” After all, while Wobberworm mucus was damaging, it was certainly not fatal and therefore did not warrant a red cap on the jar. This is why I can’t trust anyone with my system! he thought, as he grabbed two orange files (one labelled W for Wobberworm and one labelled M for mucus) and opened them side by side so he could scan them at the same time.

Eureka! On the fifth page of the file labelled M, he found the sheet for Wobberworm mucus. Elated, he showed the sheet to Potter, breathing a big sigh of relief. He had saved the other eye after all.

Potter took the sheet and studied it. “It has all the necessary information, is up to date – and the formatting is really nice I must say.” He handed the sheet back to Hocklart. “But your system is broken”

Hocklart was still panting from his sprint to his office and back and as you can imagine, was absolutely infuriated at this. How dare this so-called auditor call his system broken. It had been audited for six years until now, and Potter had pulled a nasty trick on him.

“My system is not broken”, he spat vehemently. “The information was there, it was current and properly maintained. I just forgot my key that’s all. Do you even know how much effort it takes to maintain this system to this level of quality?”

A brief wave of exasperation flickered across Potter’s face.

“You still don’t get it…” he countered. “What was my intent when I told you I spilt Wobberworm mucus in my eye?”

To damn well screw me over, thought Hocklart, before icily replying “I don’t care what your intent was, but it was grossly unfair what you did. You were just out to get me because we have passed ISSO audits for the last six years.”

“No,” replied Potter. “My intent was to see whether you have confused the system with the intent of the system.”

Potter gestured around the room to the files. “This is all great eye candy,” he said, “you have dotted the I’s, and crossed the T’s. In fact this is probably the most comprehensive system of documentation I have ever seen. But the entire purpose of this system is to keep people safe and I just demonstrated that it has failed.“

Hocklart was incredulous. “How can I demonstrate the system works when you deliberately entrapped me?”, he spat in rage.

Potter sighed. “No wizards can predict when they will have an accident you know,” he countered. “Then it wouldn’t be an accident would it? For you, this is all about the system and not about the outcome the system enables. It is all about keeping the paperwork up to date and putting it in the files… I’m sorry Hocklart, but you have lost sight of the fact the system is there to keep people safe. Your organisation is at significant risk and you are blind to that risk. You think you have mitigated it when in fact you have made it worse. For all the time, effort and cost, you have not met the intent of the ISSO standards.“

Hocklart’s left eye started to twitch as he struggled to stop himself from throwing red jars at Potter. “Get out of my sight,” he raged. “I will be reporting your misconduct to my and your superiors this afternoon. I don’t know how you can claim to be an auditor when you were clearly out to entrap me. I will not stand for it and I will see you disciplined for this!”

Potter did not answer. He turned from Hocklart, put the jar of Wobberworm mucus back on the shelf where he had found it and turned to leave.

“For pete’s sake”, Hocklart grated, “the least you could do is face the label to the front like the other jars!”

=========================

 

I wrote this parable after being told the real life version of a audit by a friend of mine… This is very much based on a true story. My Harry Potter obsessed daughter also helped me with some of the finer details. Thanks to Kailash and Mrs Cleverworkarounds for fine tuning…

.

Paul Culmsee

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9 Responses to “A Very Potter Audit – A Best Practices Parable”

  1. Kerri says:

    As always, terrific stuff! Loved the wizarding references, got a nice chuckle from it, I thought it was spot on! This applies to so many corporate situations, they can’t see the forest for the trees. Very well done, and always well written. Thanks.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks Kerrie. I am hoping that this speaks to many disciplines so appreciate your comment about many corporate situations. When my friend told me the story it certainly reminded me of SharePoint, Project Management, Six Sigma and the like…

  3. Ken says:

    This reminds me of a rumour I had heard at work some months ago. Somebody in communications had decided that blogs were communications and all that all blogs should be routed through them and written in a way they could understand them. My response was that the technical blogs I write would just be moved off-site since there would be no point in trying to write technical blogs for technical people in a way that a non-technical person could understand…

    Great story Paul and well put together as always.

  4. Andrew Woodward says:

    Story telling is a great way for people to remember something. Love this story, applies equally to a number of areas – I can think of the Agile/Lean activities that as they become mainstream seem to lose the essence and subsequently the real value.

  5. Lara says:

    A must read. I’m always loving parables and fairytales, so interesting and exciting to read on.

  6. Shim Marom says:

    Fantastic mate, not sure why but this just now hit my rss feed (!?). This is a literary masterpiece and I love it.

  7. Christian Buckley says:

    Paul, I’m serious in suggesting that you should write a governance book in this format, similar to The Goal by Eli Goldratt.

  8. Kim Ryan says:

    I’m familiar with Wizards of the variety in this story. In fact I’ve worked with quite a few. The problem is that the Wizards are rarely, if ever, the ones in danger of getting potions in the eye…. You can write a book on governance, but I believe those particular wizards in question will (sadly) not read your governance book.

  9. admin says:

    Hi Kim

    A very astute observation :-( One always is preaching to the converted a lot of the time…

    regards

    Paul

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