Holy cow, I wrote a book!
Whenever there is a coordination problem,
somebody says, "Hey, let's create a process."
Now you have two coordination problems.
I see this over and over,
and paradoxically the people who create a process for
managing a coordinating problem come off looking like
proactive problem-solvers who get ahead of the problem.
They're the go-getters, the people who look at each problem
as an opportunity for continuous improvement.
All that great management buzzword stuff.
It doesn't matter whether or not the process actually works,
because failure is an orphan,
and besides, nobody follows up a year later to see whether
your process actually improved things or whether it was abandoned six
weeks after roll-out.
You get the credit for proposing the process in the first place.
Consider this problem at a hypothetical toy company:
Some rumors have started that one of their toy cars is dangerous
because of a wiring flaw that can result in excessive heat
and possible fire.
(It doesn't matter what the crisis is.
I just made up something vaguely plausible.)
Employees all over the company are getting email from their relatives
asking about the toys,
but the employees don't know what the story is either.
Presumably, the safety department is investigating the problem
and providing guidance to the PR and marketing departments
so they can prepare a public response, and if there really is
a problem, they're working with the product recall team to organize
how the recall will be carried out,
and they're working with the product engineering team to figure out
what changes need to be made to the product to avoid the problem.
In other words, the safety department is up to their ears in crisis.
A employee from the dolls department, whose brother asked him
about this toy car problem,
can't find any information on the status of this issue and
sends email to the "Employee Issues" alias, and a dozen people
chime in with "Yes, please, we would like this information,
I want to know what I can tell my brother and everybody
else who is asking me about it.
I might even post it on my blog so I can try to counteract
some of the out-of-control rumors that are out there."
A half hour later, somebody from the safety department responds,
"Yes, we know about this, we're working on it.
Please don't say anything publicly since we're still investigating."
Somebody watching the saga unfold
proposes a process by which employees can be kept up to date
on the status of these types of emergent crises.
This is the wrong solution to the problem.
The reason why this is the wrong solution is that
it suffers from the classic "Create work for somebody else" problem.
The people who benefit from this site are not the same people
who would make the site useful.
This doesn't give the people who make the site useful much incentive to do so.
They're busy dealing with the emergency.
They don't want to waste the time of
one of their valuable investigators to do "internal PR".
This scenario repeats itself on a less dramatic scale with
various types of inter-group coordination problems.
One group wants to be kept advised of the progress of another group
for whatever reason.
But if the second group doesn't need the first group for anything,
they have no incentive to keep the first group informed.
For example, suppose the first team provides an interface that
the second team uses,
and the first team decides that they need to redesign the interface
for whatever reason.
During the transition,
the first team provides both interfaces so that the second team
can transition from the old to the new,
with the request that the second team let them know when they
have finished transitioning to the new interface so they can
remove support for the old one.
Unless the first team keeps on top of things,
the second team will probably forget to tell the first team
when they have completed the transition,
or they may even forget to transition to the new interface at all!
After all, the old interface still works.
In this case, the traditional way of making the second team care
is to file a bug against them saying, "Stop using the old interface."
That way, it shows up in their bug statistics as a reminder,
and when they actually do the work, they can resolve the bug
back to the first team.
But you can imagine a scenario where the information the first team
wants is more of a continuous nature rather than a single event.
(Since bugs track single events.)