A gatekeeper controls access. He has the duty to scrutinize every request for access and the authority to refuse entry. In business, a gatekeeper can be used to monitor the quality of work, validate requests, or streamline work. There are pros and cons to having a gatekeeper.
Consistency—the gatekeeper usually follows some guidelines in conducting his work. In doing so, there is consistency. Any work that passes the gatekeeper could be considered as meeting standards stipulated in the guidelines. For example, the funding requests for capital projects go to a committee for review. The committee acts as the gatekeeper to qualify each request, ensuring that the same criteria are used to screen all the submissions.
Quality control—complex tasks could be directed to a gatekeeper who has the expertise to do the work. This eliminates the need to train many employees to do the work. Quality improves as error rate goes down. For example, the convoluted data entry into a legacy system is error prone resulting in inappropriate mailing of marketing information to customers. By directing the data entry to a couple of employees who have extensive experience with the legacy system, the issue disappeared.
Streamlining—it is advantageous to have a single point of contact when issues arise. A gatekeeper becomes the go-to person to address problems and the communicator for essential messages. For example, a small group is the focal point for external business partners to contact to resolve problems with data transfers. This group also collaborates with the partners to develop strategies for improvements. The approach streamlines workflow and minimizes frustration.
Delays—it takes time to prepare the work for the handoff to the gatekeeper. Then, there is the wait time for the work to be completed. The delay affects service quality. For example, the approval of an account credit by the supervisor. While the review ensures that the credit amount is correct and valid, it creates a bottleneck. Apart from increasing the workload of the supervisor, she becomes accountable for catching errors. The dependency on the supervisor might not be a good way to drive accountability.
Bureaucracy—as the gatekeeper holds the liberty to exercise authority, the risk of abusing that authority for personal gain turns into bureaucracy. It is unproductive when the gatekeeper creates policies that generate unnecessary work. For example, the Project Management Office creates a policy that every project must be screened by the group before resources could be assigned. While this works well for large projects, it is unnecessary for small projects that don’t require resources from the group. The screening exercise generates additional and unnecessary workload.
Duplication of work—when work is passed from one person to the next, there is some duplication. The person who picks up the work normally needs to review the case before work can be done. The duplication happens again when the case is passed back to the originator or the next person downstream. For example, the accountant forwards every invoice for truck service to the foreman for review. The reason for the review is to validate the hours worked by the mechanic and adjust pricing. The foreman needs to pull the time logged for the job and review past invoices. He is using the same information source for worked time. The duplication of work does not add value.
Having a gatekeeper is worthwhile when his work enriches the overall delivery of the product or service. Otherwise, it becomes a damper for productivity. To ensure added value, you need to identify the purpose of having the gatekeeper and design the work with objectivity.