– And, No, it is not C++, Java, SQL, or any other programming language.

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A few years ago, I was at a Comdex show exhibiting our “PRIDE” Methodologies for IRM and gave a brief overview to an inquisitive attendee. He listened to me patiently, but at the end asked me pointedly what language “PRIDE” was written in. He looked at me dumbfounded when I told him it was written in English. I guess he honestly thought “English” was some new programming language. I could have gone on with the charade and said that it was, but honesty got the better of me and I explained to him our corporate slogan, “Software for the finest computer – the Mind.”

The language of systems is no different; No, it is not C++, Java, COBOL, etc., but rather simple English (or whatever your native language happens to be). In the past I have gone into length about the differences between Systems and Software, the two are simply not synonymous. Whereas systems include business processes implemented by human beings, computers and other office equipment, software is simply instructions for the computer to follow. Systems are for people who must also take an active role in its execution. In fact, systems will fail more for the lack of people procedures than they will for well-written computer software. There are more people procedures in a system (we refer to them as “administrative procedures”) than most people imagine. Overlooking their role in a system is a serious error. Let me give you an example…

We had a large manufacturing customer who designed a new “state-of-the-art” shop-floor control system whereby they wanted to spot errors along the assembly line and then quickly react and correct the hiccup. From a software perspective, it was a well thought-out and elegant solution coupled with an integrated data base. There was just one problem; it didn’t work. Consequently, we were called in on a consulting basis to try and determine what was wrong with it. We carefully examined the architecture of the system overall, not just the software, and quickly found the problem; Whenever an error occurred on the shop-floor, an error message was displayed on a computer screen for the shop-floor supervisor to act on. Unfortunately, nobody told the supervisor about the computer screen, the messages, or procedurally how to respond to it. We wrote a simple administrative procedure for the supervisor who then read and responded to the errors properly and the system then ran perfectly. As my example demonstrates, clearly written administrative procedures immeasurably improve the processes of system implementation and operation.

Writing for People

Even when administrative procedures are considered, they are often sloppily written in an inconsistent manner. Unlike the computer who will do anything you instruct it, right or wrong, writing for the human being is actually more difficult. People are more emotional and can be lazy and uncooperative at times. Writing for people, therefore, can be an arduous task. Instituting writing standards can materially help in bringing about consistency to this task and should be encouraged.

Whenever writing administrative procedures, they should answer these basic questions for the end-user:

* What is the purpose of the procedure? * Who should perform the procedure? When? * How should the procedure be accomplished? * What is needed to accomplish the procedure? * What are some examples?

* What should be done after the processing is accomplished?

As any writer will tell you, you must write in terms your audience will understand. As such, you should consider the intelligence level of your audience. For example, most newspapers in the United States write for people at the 6th grade level. You may possess a sophisticated vocabulary, but does your audience? When it comes to writing administrative procedures, write so your audience can understand the instructions and implement accordingly.


In reality, there is little difference between an administrative procedure and a computer procedure. The only difference is the “actor” assigned to perform the task. One of the most effective techniques for the preparation of administrative procedures, is the “Playscript” technique as developed by Leslie H. Matthies, the legendary “Dean of Systems.” To appreciate Les’ contribution, you have to understand his background. Les graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in the early 1930’s with a journalism degree. This was during the midst of the Depression where work was hard to find. For a while, Les tried his hand at writing Broadway plays and became intimate with writing scripts (where actors enter, speak their lines, and exit). When World War II broke out, Les was too old for military service and, instead, was recruited by an aircraft manufacturer in the U.S. Midwest where he was charged with establishing procedures for the production of aircraft thereby expediting the development and delivery of planes to the war front. Using his writing skills, he devised “Playscript” with actors and actions which proved effective to procedurally produce aircraft.

Let’s fast-forward to the 1950’s and the advent of the UNIVAC I. Computer programming languages had moved from machine language to assembly languages, both of which were difficult to program in. Enter Grace Hopper who was looking for an easier and more intuitive approach to programming. As such, she invented an English language compiler called “Business Compiler Zero” (B0) which ultimately became the COBOL programming language. To do so, she modeled the language after a procedure language she was familiar with, “Playscript.” Think about it. Playscript defined the environment, the files to be used and its use of verbs and nouns are easy to assimilate. What this ultimately means is that “Playscript” is the mother of all third generation procedural languages and that our premise, that there is little difference between an administrative procedure and a computer procedure, is true.

In the end, it all comes down to simple verbs and nouns – the Language of Systems.

“Systems will fail more for the lack of administrative procedures than well written computer procedures.”
– Bryce’s Law

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) “The Town Square” with host John Siggins (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, (12:30-3:00pm).

Also look for Tim’s postings in the Palm Harbor Patch, The Gentlemen’s Association, and throughout the Internet.

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