LadiesMan and I were having a discussion the other day about our frustration over people failing to follow seemingly simple instructions, when I had an epiphany and realised why we find it so irritating.

By their very nature, computers rely on procedure. A computer program is a set procedure. The computer follows the procedure, and does exactly what is asked of it. If this doesn’t achieve the intended goal, then it’s because the procedure is wrong.

As IT staff, our jobs revolve around the same sort of procedure. If we want the computer to do something, we follow a procedure in order to achieve it. Sometimes when there are unexpected problems, we have to discern the correct procedure, but the next time we have the same problem, we know what procedure to follow in order to fix it. The procedure is there for a reason. Not following it, or deviating from any part of it, will mean that the end goal will not be reached.

In this way, our jobs are an exact science. It may sometimes seem like working with computers involves a lot of luck, intuition, and voodoo, but that’s only because the underlying logic behind a problem is often not fully understood.

Most people’s jobs do not follow this rationale. Teaching, for example, is by no means an exact science (even teaching science). A teacher can (and often needs to) improvise and deviate from a lesson plan in order to effectively teach a particular class or individual student.

All of which brings us to the crux of the problem.

IT staff expect procedures to be followed.

Maybe our jobs make us that way; perhaps a person with that mindset is drawn to the job; maybe a little of both. Nonetheless, it is how we think, and for some of us, how we live. Even at home I have procedures. I have a particular order for doing the dishes. It’s not just habit; I’ve thought that procedure through and have reasons for each step being in the order it is. When I then have to deal with people who do not think this way, it’s not just a conflict of work styles, it’s a conflict of my very nature.

When we tell someone they need to come straight back after lunch, and they say they will, we expect them to do that. We don’t expect them to detour via a computer room for 15 minutes so they can quickly check their email, thus interrupting the work we are doing on their account which requires them to be logged off.  If they do this, and then turn up at our office complaining that their account is still broken, we are forced to tell them that we will now have to start over and that they will have to wait even longer before they can use their account.

They will grumble, blaming us for not warning them of this consequence. We will grumble because we made it perfectly clear that they needed to come to us directly and that an explicit warning should not have been necessary since they had agreed a course of action under which the problem could not occur.

In the end, neither view is right. It is simply a fundamental difference in the ways two people can think. It will always be so, and it will always be frustrating for both parties.

At least now, I’m aware of it. From this day forward, so are you.

About The Angry Technician

The Angry Technician is an experienced IT professional in the UK education sector. Normally found in various states of annoyance on his blog. All views are those of his imaginary pet dog, Howard.

3 responses to “Procedure”

  1. David says :

    Fantastic!! Its good to know that I’m not the only person that sees the world this way.

    Now if I can just manage to let peoples lack of procedure pass over me without it irritating the hell out of me… my life will be bliss!

  2. Sanguinor says :

    Hit the nail on the head with that one.

  3. Dave S says :

    You know, oddly, I disagree with this one. The rant is fine – if they say they will do something, or be somewhere at an appointed time, it’s their problem if their failure to stick to the agreed plan causes them grief.

    But, in my experience technicianing and sysadminning, the thing that always astonished me was most peoples’ difficulty in generalising the solutions to problems. They stuck too tightly to the procedure they’d been shown. If I showed them how to set A3 paper in MS Word, that wouldn’t help them to do the same thing in Netscape. Likewise, if a desk lamp wasn’t working, they’d check if it was plugged-in, but they wouldn’t apply the same logic to a dead printer.

    Someone with a technical mindset, on the other hand, such as a decent IT bod, would realise that Netscape would probably something similar to a Page Setup menu item, it would probably live on the File Menu, and if it didn’t then the next thing to look for would be an option in the Print dialog or an Options menu item. The mark of a good techie was the ability to deviate from a learned procedure and go fishing for a solution using a bank of experience and educated guesswork. Likewise, they would realise that “it’s dead so check the plug first” applied to a whole range of hardware, not just desk lamps.