Deep inside, I’m a nice guy so when I saw our last full team meeting was going to be a long one I decided to buy some coffee and pastries for the team. In fact, my hidden goal was to improve the productivity of the meeting (better to have breakfast altogether than having a break and refocus afterwards) and for the team finances, paying a breakfast is nothing, right?
Big, big mistake. We (myself and the person from the team I asked to take care of the “breakfast organization”) ended up wasting one hour of our lives and finally deciding against the free breakfast. This is what happened:
- Attempting to bring the coffee from the École cafeteria and pastries from outside (aiming for quality!). FAILED: The secretary of the department advises us to bring everything from the cafeteria. Buying food outside just too complex for the system
- Sending my guy to the cafeteria to order the food for the meeting. FAILED: We need an authorization from the department to order the food (all senior researchers already know that even if the team got the money, once it arrives to the university, claiming ownership is very difficult )
- I provide all the “event” (what was supposed to be some coffee and pastries now morphs into an official team event and becomes formalized) information to prepare the authorization form
- It turns out this authorization is not immediate since it has to be signed by the head of the department (really? the head of a department has nothing better to do than signing all team coffee events? who the f*** invented this requirement?)
- Waiting for the signature
- Authorization denied because the accounting service (yes! they also need to validate my coffee! hurray!) requires the full list of coffee drinkers (first and last names)
At this point I pulled the plug. I have my own limits and providing a full list of people to be able to buy some coffee using my project money goes beyond them. So, a nice intention ended up in a lot of angriness (and hungriness). Dear System, you won this battle but the war goes on. P.S.: When I decided to stop it, the secretary assured me that this was nothing personal, the process was the same for everybody. To be honest, at that point I’d have preferred that to be something personal and keep the illusion that others were able to freely drink coffee!
If anyone has an even more stupid experience than identifying all people that could potentially dare to drink coffee please let me know, I’ll surely feel better.
When I encounter idiotic bureaucracy like this, I usually try to turn the system on itself. We don’t need to have head of department authorization (that’s nuts), but I could see asking my kind of head of department to pre-authorize my next 10 coffee requests. Then, I would start making up names of coffee drinkers. I’d write a script to automatically fill out the authorization form (“Yes, Fred Flintstone is coming for coffee.”) Stupid policies and procedures deserve an aggressive response.
You are very brave. I don´t dare to piss off the secretaries of the department. They are like software end-users, they can make your life (even more) miserable!
That is hilarious and frustrating at the same time. But here at CSIC things are even more surreal. When we travel (to a conference, for example) we are required to produce a document signed by the hotel manager attesting that we have stayed at the hotel. When we buy something overseas (books in Amazon, software anywhere) the provider is required to send us an invoice conforming to Spanish accounting regulations, even though they usually know nothing (and care little) about such regulations. Worst thing of all, most admin people here totally lack an interest to improve the way things are done. Somehow the system has managed to destroy their critical skills.
Glad to things could even be worse 🙂
I bet it is far from easy to get these documents. So, for instance, what happens if the hotel manager doesn´t want to prepare your document? As I said some time ago, going to a conference is still work ( http://myresearchrants.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/attending-a-conference-is-still-work/ ) so I don´t really want to have all this kind of problems when travelling.
When something like this happen to me in my brain there is a safety valve: “fuck it! It’s 25€, I’ll buy it by myself”
It doesn’t solve the problem (you will never solve any bureaucratic problem), but at least you have breakfast and no anger (ok, maybe a little bit).
Come here because I will start ranting on coffee as well. “They” will remove our personal coffee machines….