Two Changed Processes That Fail Badly

I have recently been surprised by the way two – very -different – process have been changed that make things way, way more difficult for the user.

Haringay Parking Permits

I live in Haringay, and like many other urban boroughs, there are parking restrictions. I don’t have a car, but I occasionally need visitors’ parking permits, which I can buy from the council.

How It Used To Work

  • go to the council offices
  • queue for a while
  • fill out a form
  • hand form to council worker
  • pay for the permits using credit card
  • receive permits from council worker, up to the limit I’m allowed if I so wish

There may have been an online option, but since this was the first time I needed permits and I needed some quickly, it made sense for me to pick them up from the office and register in person.

How It Works Now

  • go to the council offices
  • queue for a while
  • fill out a form detailing how many permits I wanted (32 in this instance)
  • hand form to council worker
  • council worker explains that they can’t take payment at the office
  • receive eight two-hourly permits from council worker – all she was allowed to distribute – without paying for them
  • another council workers makes repeated phone calls to my phone (which I ignore, because I don’t recognise the number)
  • council worker finally leaves a message on my voicemail
  • I call council back
  • I give the council worker my credit card details
  • council worker takes payment from my credit card
  • council worker puts 24 permits in an envelope (32-8, since I already took 8 permits)
  • council worker puts envelope in the post
  • postman delivers envelope
  • I receive permits

The whole process has been redesigned to create more touch points from the council, meaning much more work for them, much less convenience for me, and decreased security since I have to give my credit card details to someone over the phone (who could be using my card right now…). What’s more, they had to wait three weeks for their money: I wanted to give them money, and the council didn’t want it. It is, frankly, bonkers, and I can’t work out why they would have designed it the way they have: separating out the supply of permits from the payment, and restricting the number of permits that can be given in person, imply there were some issues with the face-to-face parts of the original process. How these were solved by greatly increasing the complexity – and the work done by the council – baffles me.

Photographs from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum

At last year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, they had some great interactive software that allowed you to select your favourite pictures. They had something similar this year. Except that they completely broke it.

How It Worked Last Year

I think. As much as I can remember…

  • sit at a console at the end of the exhibition
  • select favourite pictures
  • type in your email address
  • go home
  • log into email
  • open email
  • click links
  • look at favourite pictures online

Simple. Really.

How It Worked This Year

  • sit at a console at the end of the exhibition
  • select favourite pictures
  • scan barcode on ticket stub
  • go home
  • go to
  • click on the link to the exhibition
  • click on the link which said something like “how to view your favourite pictures”
  • type in 16 digit number from ticket stub – yes, a sixteen digit identifier – were they really expecting trillions of visitors?
  • register to join the Natural History Museum’s “Wildlife Photographer of the Year community”, which required giving my email address and a password (which must include an upper case character, a lower case character, and a number)
  • wait for them to send a confirmation email
  • log into email
  • click link to confirm my email address
  • log into the community site
  • look for the link to access my favourite photographs (which the instructions said would be at the bottom of the community page)

Guess what: no link, no photographs.

So the Natural History Museum took a process which was so simple it impressed me last year and did exactly what it needed to do – and which I raved about, sharing the photographs with friends and giving the exhibition free publicity – and ruined it.

What’s more, why do I require a password? Why does the museum make me choose a variety of characters to secure an account which I do not want with a community I have no interest in joining which contains no information about me except my email. What is the security risk? That someone might pretend to be me to look at some pictures which the system has singularly failed to deliver? (Actually, my guess is that the community is open to children of all ages, so they feel the need for some control: but their process has not verified my identify at all. And I am trying to imagine young children navigating this process.

The thing is, I can look at all the pictures without this process anyhow, by going to the exhibition’s online gallery. You could have told me that before going through all this bloody process!

The whole thing has been a waste of time.

I can only think that the Natural History Museum has been told by some social media consultant that they need to have a community, and that they have decided the best way to do this is to force visitors to the exhibition to do this.

Of course, maybe I have been doing something wrong. The process is so complicated – unnecessarily so – that I may have made a mistake. So I’ve just logged in again, following the instructions once more. No photographs, no link.

And apparently no way to delete my account.

Great job there.


3 thoughts on “Two Changed Processes That Fail Badly

  1. James Christie

    Interesting post. Hazarding a guess, I’d say it’s possible that when the council redesigned the process they were thinking vaguely of the need for separation of duties to prevent fraud. It’s an important principle, but in practice if it seeps too deeply into the subconscious of the process designer it can be implemented unnecessarily, or inappropriately.

    In this case the parking permits should be controlled documents with serial numbers, which couldn’t be sold without any record for cash that could be pocketed by the council employee.

    If it is necessary to separate payment from the issue of permits then that points to some other flaw with the design of the process or documents, and the flaw is being addressed the wrong way. I wonder if someone said incorrectly “the auditors will expect it”. I’ve seen that too often.

    1. patrickhadfield Post author

      I think you must be right about the separation of duties – when I first heard of the changed process, my guess was that they were somehow trying to reduce fraud. Maybe the counter staff had been pocketing permits – since they required payment by credit or debit card, I couldn’t see how the staff could have been taking money.

      But I’m pretty sure it would have been possible to add some more controls without duplicating the work and increasing the cost by, for instance, requiring postage.


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