"I write these SOPs for a reason," Ken barked, "and that reason isn't just so you can violate them!" Ken had the attitude of a drill sergeant from basically any movie with a cliché terrifying drill sergeant. In a previous career, Ken was a naval officer, and his rigid adherence to well-defined procedures was unshakable.

Ken was working for a clinical research company's central office in Ohio, where he struck fear into the hearts of his team, most of which were in a satellite office in Arizona. They frequently violated procedures, generally because they were unaware of the procedure being broken – and Garrett M. was the one that Ken watched most closely. He'd get his team following SOPs to the letter or die trying.

"How many times do we have to have this conversation, Garrett?" Ken pressed, "How many, huh?"

This was number eleven, but only the fourth SOP talking-to he'd received for his current project.

Worst Case Scenario

Garrett's current project involved creating a bunch of little apps for scheduling, reporting, and other things of that nature. Ken's SOPs decreed that anything created or installed on the computers outside of standard documents had to be authorized by the head of IT: Ken. At this point, Garrett wasn't aware of the policy and installed some open source dev tools. Big mistake. Ken harangued him for installing open source software, that it was inherently unstable and insecure, and other vague not-necessarily-true-or-verifiable objections.

OK, time for another approach: Visual Basic. Garrett had a copy at home, so he'd work on the application at home and bring in the executable. Again, Ken that put the brakes on it. "You can't use the .exe unless it was built on your computer at work!"

"All right, can I get a copy of Visual Studio?"


Garrett rolled up his sleeves and gritted his teeth. He'd arrived at his "worst case scenario" option – coding in Office using VBA. Garrett accidentally let this little detail out on the phone with Ken. "Is what you're talking about... macros? We can't use macros, macros put viruses on our computers!"

What's the SOP?

Ken had penned most of the SOPs himself, and he maintained them with pride. One of his favorite SOPs was SOP-02.11.28-B, Procedure to Monitor and Maintain Backup Power. It mandated that the IT manager (Ken) stay on top of the situation at the server facility. The setup was pretty robust: all systems on battery backups, and then a diesel generator that would automatically kick in if the systems went on battery power for more than thirty minutes. This was to be tested monthly – no exceptions – and Ken of all people would hold himself to Ken's rigid standards, let he get yelled at or god forbid a demerit from himself.

One day, the Ohio network suddenly went dark, yet the network in Arizona was holding up fine. Garrett immediately paged the support tech, who wasn't at the facility, but she was aware of the problem. "We're looking into the issue now; we're in the middle of a blizzard that knocked out the power."

"But don't you guys have battery backups?"

She was hesitant to respond, but finally admitted "most of them are bad, they don't hold a charge for more than a few minutes." Garrett pressed the issue further and learned that Ken was waiting until he got his annual under-budget bonus before buying new ones.

Garrett kept a lid on his frustration with Ken. "OK, regardless, why didn't the generator turn on?"

"Well, uh, we don't really have an automated way to do that. We've just always turned them on before the batteries died. But not to worry, I've dispatched a field tech to turn them on."

An hour passed, and finally the tech called back. "The janit— err, field tech went to the facility. He said there's no fuel in the generator."

"No fuel?!," Ken responded, "it holds over two hundred gallons! Is there a leak, or some way for the fuel to escape?"

"There were no signs of a leak," she said, "and it was all working fine when we did our last test in September."

It was now mid January.

"September? Ken is supposed to check it every month!"

"Ahh, well, I don't know what to tell you," the support tech sighed. "The janitor said that there were no signs of leakage, the cap was in place, and it's supposed to be topped off after every test. It may've been siphoned?"

The two sat in silence for a while, when she broke in, "and you didn't hear this from me, but there's only one person here with access to the generator and who happens to drive a diesel. That's Ken."