Every rule, process, and procedure in your organization was created based on some combination of legal, technical, practical, and arbitrary limits.

Does your company ship everything in just a few standard-sized boxes?  Maybe it is because they fit nicely into a UPS truck, so you get a discount.  Or maybe your first box vendor recommended them, and you have just gotten into the habit of using them.

Are you forced to use 16 digit SKUs for all of your products?  Maybe it is because, years ago, someone arbitrarily set this limit in a database.  Or maybe it is because all of your distribution partners have inventory systems that use 16 digit SKUs, and won’t be able to manage your products if you use longer ones.

Some rules are made because if we do it any other way, it impacts our accounting all the way up to the annual shareholder report.  Some rules are made because someone had to pick a number, so a couple of people got together and guessed.

We get advised all the time to break the rules.  Facebook has (or had) the famous motto of “move fast and break things”.  This approach has the advantage of helping to clear out the rules that were based on assumptions or obsolete technical constraints.  It also tends to create a lot of havoc when the rules encoded important legal or safety constraints. (A supplier of medical devices probably wants to be a little more conservative when changing processes.)

If the consequences of breaking a rule are small, and the opportunity for breaking out of legacy assumptions is high (like for a new social-media company), “move fast and break things” is probably a good rule.  You probably need to supplement that with a team or process that follows-up and fixes any critical issues that result.

If the consequences of breaking a rule are large (people’s health or safety is a risk), you need a more formal change review process.

Most organizations are in the middle of these two extremes, so you need an approach somewhere in the middle.  The key is to unpack the rule and look for legal, technical, and practical influences, and confirm whether they are still relevant.  The rest is probably based on arbitrary decisions that can and should be challenged.


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