Stylish maps of bureaucracy

Finding where you fit in a large organisation isn’t easy sometimes. It can be difficult to see the whole picture. These very stylish organisation charts might be just the ticket.

Organograms | UK GovernmentPeter Cook
Organograms (also known as org charts) show the structure of organisations – in our case UK Government departments. The gallery presents an overview of a number of government departments (from May 2014). Click a department to explore it in more detail.


I love the moiré effects when you zoom in on some of them. (Via FlowingData)


I couldn’t help but think of Sam Lowry’s labyrinthine struggles with Brazil‘s Ministry of Information, when I saw these sprawling government department charts. So it was nice to read, this morning, about Jonathan Pryce’s Oscar nomination—best newcomer, indeed.

Productivity advice from US spies

I have to admit to a certain level of smugness when a popular website publishes something that I’ve already highlighted here years ago. Like this top-secret US sabotage manual from 1944, for example, that I first mentioned in 2015.

This new Quartz article does take a different approach to it, however, by looking at what it can teach us about today’s bureaucratic management styles.

How to cope with a toxic boss, according to a US spy manual from WWII

“Insist on doing everything through channels. Never permit shortcuts to be taken. Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions. Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant projects.” […]

“When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions. To lower morale, and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient works; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.” […]

If you feel like your boss is following these directions, the only option is to insert yourself as a counter-saboteur, and to get ahead of their actions. This World War II manual has actually proven helpful in my own corporate work experience. If nothing else, it has prompted me at times to think about how to turn an overly bureaucratic situation into a productive and expedient one.

We all need to be data literate

This article from Harvard Business Review doesn’t mention schools once, but I think it fits perfectly well in that setting.

The democratization of data science
Intelligent people find new uses for data science every day. Still, despite the explosion of interest in the data collected by just about every sector of American business — from financial companies and health care firms to management consultancies and the government — many organizations continue to relegate data-science knowledge to a small number of employees.

That’s a mistake — and in the long run, it’s unsustainable.

It goes on to outline the three steps necessary to create a more data literate organisation; share data tools, spread data skills, and spread data responsibility. Couldn’t agree more. It’s well worth a read.

Clever ways of being stupid

Read the CIA’s Simple Sabotage Field Manual: A Timeless Guide to Subverting Any Organization with “Purposeful Stupidity” (1944)
But in addition to human failings, there’s another possible reason for bureaucratic disorder; the conspiracy-minded among us may be forgiven for assuming that in many cases, institutional incompetence is the result of deliberate sabotage from both above and below. The ridiculous inner workings of most organizations certainly make a lot more sense when viewed in the light of one set of instructions for “purposeful stupidity,” namely the once top-secret Simple Sabotage Field Manual, written in 1944 by the CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Defending process

An engineer’s perspective on process, and on never being put off when asking why:

A good Engineering Program Manager’s job is to keep the trains on time by all reasonable means. However, my experience with program managers over the past two decades is that 70% of them are crap because while they are capable of keeping the trains running on time, they don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. When someone on the team asked them to explain the reasoning behind the process, they’d say something to the effect of, “Well, this is how we’ve always done it…” …

Anyone who interacts with process has a choice. You can either blindly follow the bulleted lists or you can ask why. They’re going to ignore you the first time you ask, the second time, too. The seventh time you will be labeled a troublemaker and you will run the risk of being uninvited to meetings, but I say keep asking why. Ask in a way that illuminates and doesn’t accuse. Listen hard when they attempt to explain and bumble it a bit because maybe they only know a bit of the origin story.

It’s a myth, but healthy process is awesome if it not only documents what we care about, but is willing to defend itself. It is required to stand up to scrutiny and when a process fails to do so, it must change.

A great account of how an organisation’s culture could be hidden within its processes, if only we have eyes to see.