On my way to Virtualization Field Day 4, I ran into a bit of a snafu at the airport that made me think about policy and application. When I put my carry-on luggage through the X-ray, the officer took it to the back and gave it a thorough screening. During that process, I was informed that my double-edged safety razor would not be able to make the trip (or the blade at least). I was vexed, as this razor had flown with me for at least a whole year with nary a peep from security. When I related as much to the officer, the response was “I’m sorry no one caught it before.”
Everyone Is The Same, Except For Me
This incident made me start thinking about polices in networking and security and how often they are arbitrarily enforced. We see it every day. The IT staff comes up with a new plan to reduce mailbox sizes or reduce congestion by enforcing quality of service (QoS). Everyone is all for the plan during the discussion stages. When the time comes to implement the idea, the exceptions start happening. Upper management won’t have mailbox limitations. The accounting department is exempt from the QoS policy. The list goes on and on until it’s larger than the policy itself.
Why does this happen? How can a perfect policy go from planning to implementation before it falls apart? Do people sit around making up rules they know they’ll never follow? That does happen in some cases, but more often it happens that the folks that the policy will end up impacting the most have no representation in the planning process.
Take mailboxes for example. The IT department, being diligent technology users, strive for inbox zero every day. They process and deal with messages. They archive old mail. They keep their mailbox a barren wasteland of in-process things and shuffle everything else off to the static archive. Now, imagine an executive. These people are usually overwhelmed by email. They process what they can but the wave will always overtake them. In addition, they have no archive. Their read mail sits around in folders for easy searching and quick access when a years-old issue becomes present again.
In modern IT, any policies limiting mailbox sizes would be decided by the IT staff based on their mailbox size. Sure, a 1 GB limit sounds great. Then, when the policy is implemented the executive staff pushes back with their 5 GB (or larger) mailboxes and says that the policy does not apply to them. IT relents and finds a way to make the executives exempt.
In a perfect world, the executive team would have been consulted or had representation on the planning team prior to the decision. The idea of having huge mailboxes would have been figured out in the planning stage and dealt with early instead of making exceptions after the fact. Maybe the IT staff needed to communicate more. Perhaps the executive team needed to be more involved. Those are problems that happen every day. So how do we fix them?
Exceptions Are NOT The Rule
The way to increase buy-in for changes and increase communication between stakeholders is easy but not without pain. When policies are implemented, no deviations are allowed. It sounds harsh. People are going to get mad at you. But you can’t budge an inch. If a policy exception is not documented in the policy it will get lost somewhere. People will continue to be uninvolved in the process as long as they think they can negotiate a reprieve after the fact.
IT needs to communicate up front exactly what’s going into the change before the the implementation. People need to know how they will be impacted. Ideally, that will mean that people have talked about the change up front so there are no surprises. But we all know that doesn’t happen. So making a “no exceptions” policy or rule change will get them involved. Because not being able to get out of a rule means you want to be there when the rules get decided so you can make your position clear and ensure the needs of you and your department are met.
As I said yesterday on Twitter, people don’t mind rules and polices. They don’t even mind harsh or restrictive rules. What they have a problem with is when those rules are applied in an arbitrary fashion. If the corporate email policy says that mailboxes are supposed to be no more than 1 GB in size then people in the organization will have a problem if someone has a 20 GB mailbox. The rules must apply to everyone equally to be universally adopted. Likewise, rules must encompass as many outlying cases as possible in order to prevent one-off exceptions for almost everyone. Planning and communication are more important than ever when planning those rules.