Problem Management — principles

1. Management Structure

Organizations must have an effective management structure in order to function. There are other possibilities, and other nomenclature, but the following description represents typical management structure. It should be seen as a pyramid, with each level controlling multiple instances of the level below.


The Owner starts an organization with a Mandate, which might be as simple as Make as much money as possible for the shareholders..

Various public-face Declarations must be created, stating how that mandate will be fulfilled. E.g. Mission, Motto, Vision, etc.


The Director sets Direction for the organization in a way that is consistent with the published vision.


The Administrator defines Policies that will implement the given direction.

The Administrator recommends but does not make decisions regarding Direction.


The Manager defines Procedures that will implement the given Policies.

The Manager recommends but does not make decisions regarding Policy.


The Supervisor assigns Tasks and ensures that they are completed properly and on time.

The Supervisor recommends but does not make decisions regarding Procedures.


The Worker performs the Work according to the assigned tasks.

The Worker recommends but does not make decisions regarding task assignment.

2. Variations

Larger organizations might choose to insert additional layers (e.g. assistant-…). Smaller organizations would have to combine some duties (e.g. the Director and Administrator could be the same person).

3. Problems

Regardless of the actual implementation, it's important that people always be aware of, and restrict activities to, their specific roles. Problems arise when this principle is ignored.

Perhaps the most important division in the hierarchy is between Workers and Management, with Supervisors often, but not always, being associated with the Workers.

Even if we ignore the politics and complications of unions, when a Manager (or above) starts doing some of the tasks normally assigned to people lower in the hierarchy, bad things happen. Often the task is not done as well or as efficiently as it would be done by the person normally responsible for it, causing resentment and a loss of respect. Why is someone being paid twice as much to do a job only half as well?

But there are two major factors that will determine the success or failure of any organization.

The policies, procedures, standards, and various other expectations must be established at each level. They must be clearly defined and strictly but fairly enforced. Without that, there will be confusion and a loss of respect for authority.

Clear rules eliminate much of the need for decision making, but even so, it is sometimes necessary for one level to ask for a decision from a higher level. Such decisions must be made as quickly as is reasonably possible. Failure to do so results in further confusion at lower levels, disrupts the work process, and again creates disrespect.

4. Decisions

In a well-run organization, decisions really can be made quickly. A decision is generally needed only because there isn't any existing Direction, Policy, or Procedure that applies to the situation.

Typically, before asking for a decision, the asker will have already researched the issue and will present a relatively unbiased set of choices. Decision makers need to trust those under them to have done this. As a result, it's unlikely they will be presented with any very obviously good or bad choices. That makes the decision making process very easy.

The unspoken secret of management is that it really doesn't matter which alternative is chosen. Really. Each choice will have some good and some bad effects, but overall, all the presented alternatives will be acceptable, otherwise they wouldn't have been offered. All the asker needs is someone to take responsibility for the choice, and all the decision maker needs to realize is that it's not the actual decision that's important, it's the act of deciding.

That's one reason that psychopaths are so successful in business organizations. They enjoy making decisions that will affect others and are not distracted by caring about whether their decisions are right or wrong.

5. Formula for Success

It's not necessarily the most efficent way, but in the long run it's highly effective and reliable.