Keith used a similar title in a different post last week - Complying with rules is not the same as working to rule- and it made me think about the phrase "working to rule". Now "work to rule" is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary thus:
"A job action in which employees do no more than the minimum required by the rules of a workplace in order to cause a slowdown."
Clearly this is not a good thing - by following all the rules all the time workers expect to make things go slower rather than better. If "working to rule" is bad then why is it good to build a system that works the rules, enforces them and generally makes sure they are followed? Well at a basic level the automation of rules, so that they can be enforced all the time instead of selectively, is key. A work to rule slows things down because we are in fact intolerant of the time it takes to enforce all the rules. Sometimes this is because the rules are unnecessarily onerous butsometimes it is because we do not like the rules or because we prefer to rely on our own judgment (see "Blink" for more on this topic). So how does enforcing all the rules all the time help? Well it will depend on your situation but examples include:
The rules will check all data that might be relevant to a decision in a systematic way, even data that does not seem important. If the data could make a difference it will be evaluated. Skipping these rules might speed things up but will contribute to people's tendency to consider too narrow a range of factors.
One of the ways to "work to rule" identified in Labor Notes is "Never go by memory, check your reference material" and another is "Never use your own judgment—ask!". These are examples where automation of the rules can really help as no-one has to go by their memory (the reference material is checked by the rules) and no-one needs to trust their own judgment too much - see this refund story for an example. After all the people on the front line cannot be expected to have the whole picture nor can they be expected to go through checking everything while a customer waits. Automating the rules can make it easier all round, in contrast to having your staff work to rule.
Sometimes the rules are designed to ensure a lack of bias - for instance in lending - and you really want to make sure those rules are enforced all the time.
In many ways the fact that "working to rule" means slowing things down explains why you should automate business rules not write them in policy manuals.