15 September, 2010

How many nemeses does one person need?

A manager - for the sake of a name let's call him Mr Bonehead, because I'm not feeling particularly creative with aliases right now - received an invoice and then sat on it for a fortnight before passing it through to us with only eight working days left in which to have payment authorised and processed.  Plenty of time, you might think, considering it's not a huge amount (a little over $100,000) and we live in an age of digital wonders*, but the labyrinthine approvals process and (let's be honest) some seriously  f***ed-up financial delegation levels make this a much more challenging process than could reasonably be expected. At the best of times, eight working days would be barely be adequate.

Mr Bonehead finally sent the invoice through to The Invertebrate, asking him to organise payment. The Invertebrate left it on my desk (I was away the day it arrived) with a note asking me to organise payment (at least partly, I suspect, because The Invertebrate still hasn't quite learnt how to use our systems). This is on a Friday, so suddenly we're already at the end of a working week.

The next week kicked off with everyone but me away for the first half of the week. This is less stressful than it sounds, but getting things moving doesn't happen easily. Nevertheless, I get the purchase request up to the Director's office to kick off the approval chain. It's beyond his meagre financial delegation of $50,000, but he still needs to see it before it goes to the next level of management for their approval ... except that it's also beyond their level of delegation, but they have to see it before it goes on to the level after that, where someone can finally rubber-stamp the renewal of a critical bit of IT infrastructure support.

Except that the Director is the one who has to approve the use of the particular account this is to be paid from, and even though it's been paid from this account every year since its inception, he decides that now he wants to know more about it. I provide a brief cover letter with all the relevant details I can lay my hands on, which aren't many because it turns out this particular contract has been administered with a high degree of secrecy over the years. So he sends the whole thing back down to Mr Bonehead asking him what it's about.

In the meantime, the company we're trying to pay has been ringing Mr Bonehead to see how things are going. Then they ring Finance, who also call Mr Bonehead and ask if it's okay to pay.

"Sure," he tells them. And then tells them to forward any other inquiries about it straight to me.

Finance try to pay the invoice on the say-so of someone who doesn't have the authority to approve a payment of that size or from that account, only to discover - surprise! - that there's nothing in their system they can match it against so they can proceed. At which point they email me in confusion and ask me to submit a payment request (in addition to the purchase request that's already ricocheting around somewhere in the building). I figure I may as well, because the money has to be paid and this might save us some time.

Except - there's that word again - I can't submit a payment request without a financial approver, which just starts me down exactly the same path as getting the purchase request authorised. Only this time, because that particular workflow is hardcoded to only recognise its own version of Inner Truth, our wonderful financial system won't let me pick a financial approver anywhere to whom I can send this thing.

If I drew this as a flowchart, it would probably end up stabbing itself in the head to stop the pain.

I give The Invertebrate an update on what's going on and then throw up my hands, having been effectively stymied at every turn.

A week or so later the saga rears its head again with no-one listening to a word anyone else is saying, least of all anything I might have to say.

The supplier is becoming more insistent that the invoice be paid today ("Kindly refer to our previous correspondence re. claiming firstborn in lieu of payment"), emailing and calling me constantly while simultaneously harassing our finance area ... who are also emailing and calling me constantly. Our Finance Trolls are being particularly annoying, as I've now had to repeat the same story to several different people because none of them write anything down or communicate anything to their teammates. Or maybe they do, and they just prefer to start from first principles every time. Who can tell? Their ways are not those of normal folk.

Anyway, with time running out I began chasing the Director's PA to see if they knew where the payment authorisation had gone because I certainly didn't. They did some forensic work at their end and discovered...

[Drum roll!]

... Mr Bonehead was sitting on it again. Had been, in fact, since the moment he received it from the Director asking what it was about.

Asked if he could bring it back so we could get on with paying it, he responded "Oh, but it hasn't been signed yet." So he knew payment was actually dependent on it being signed, but never thought it might be useful to send it back to someone who could sign off on something he wanted paid urgently.

After sitting on it for a fortnight at the start.

* Although this normally translates into people wondering how to extract their digits from various orifices.


Jonathan said...

How is it that you haven't stabbed anyone yet?

Argh said...

It's a combination of excellent impulse control, and a deliberate lack of convenient sharp objects.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, I'd like to compliment you on knowing the plural of "nemesis".