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Thursday, February 14, 2002


Steve Page (mentioned in Linda's Notes from the Field entry earlier today) has a new book coming out about how to align strategy to policy. I agree with Linda that Steve is a foremost expert on the subject of policies and procedures, and his three books on the subject set a high standard for content and approach. Imagine my dismay when I checked Amazon to find a sprinkling of negative reviews among the majority of glowing praise for two of these books. The reviewers seem to focus on a few typos and sentence structure, completely missing the message. And the message in Steve's books is the essence: how to develop effective (and enforceable) policies and procedures.

Here's my recap of the books:

  • Establishing a System of Policies and Procedures: This is Steve's first book, published in 1998, and it is the first book (to the best of my knowledge) that steps readers through the unglamorous--but important--task of how to write policies and procedures. Anyone who follows Mr. Page's steps will develop well-crafted policies and procedures that will be unambiguous and clearly stated. This is where the Amazon "Reviewer from Independence, MO" and I disagree. The reviewer wrote on 12 February 2002 that the book "[is] long-winded, badly edited, poorly written ...", which are subjective. While the book will never be classified as a literary masterpiece, and it does contain typos, it will stand (in my opinion) as a solid book on the subject and one that I recommend without reservation to anyone who is faced with the task of writing policies and procedures.
  • Achieving 100% Compliance of Policies and Procedures: This is Mr. Page's second book, and in my opinion the best of the three that he's written. Each of the five reviewers, including Linda (see her 2 May 2001 review) awarded this book five stars and consistently glowing comments. Even experienced policies and procedures developers will find a technique or two that they didn't previously know.
  • 7 Steps to Better Written Policies and Procedures: This book is better suited to experienced policies and procedures writers. In fact, this book is a shining example of the economies of reuse because it's a reprint of key parts of Achieving 100% Compliance of Policies and Procedures. Our friend, "Reviewer from Independence, MO", decided to lambast this book on 12 February 2002 as well. His/her negative review, however, was the only dissenting one of the seven posted on Amazon (including my 27 September 2001 review, which was followed by Linda's 28 September review).
The purpose of my thoughts is not to single out the dissenter from Missouri, but to make a point about fact vs. value, which is a fundamental skill that analysts need to develop and refine.

In the case of the books, the reviewer was mixing facts (typos) with values (subjective statements about writing style) and then drawing conclusions that reflected bias towards the value judgement.

As analysts (and we all are), we need to park our values when we're objectively evaluating a process, design alternative, book or proposal.

The key is to focus on the essence of whatever it is that we're evaluating. To illustrate this, I am going to invite your attention to another book that both Linda and I reviewed: IT Organization: Building A Worldclass Infrastructure. My 11 January 2001 review noted the flaws in the book, including typos, a table of contents that didn't describe what was in the book and other blemishes. Had I imposed my values and stopped reading the book because of those reasons I would have missed some extremely valuable insights about IT organizational management. In fact, this book has strongly influenced my thinking and approach. Linda's 16 May 2001 review acknowledged some of the same problems with the book, but her perspective uncovered even more valuable information the authors were providing. Yes, the book has a few warts. A look beyond the warts reveals innovative thoughts and documented best practices. Had we dwelled on the warts we would have missed the book's message.

The moral is to strive to remain objective and to put things into perspective. In the case of a book, are typos and sentence structures show stoppers or merely inconveniences? In the case of other artifacts and processes that we are called upon to objectively evaluate, are we allowing values and nitpicking to get in the way of finding the real strengths and weaknesses of our subject? Think about it.