Minimum amount of complexity

If you make something easier for your business, you probably just made it harder for your customers. Simplified it for your customers? That burden no doubt moved to your business.

In any process or system there is a minimum amount of complexity that can bare no further compression. This level of complexity acts like a waterbed that bulges up in one area when attempts are made to push down on another.

At this level of complexity the only further work that can be done is to delegate steps to different parties or a different system. This act makes things feels simpler, but has really made no end-to-end difference.

These kinds of changes are only subjective changes to complexity.

When it is too good to be true

Some processes are unnecessarily complex and are yet to reach this minimum level. Things such as more people having to be notified about something then necessary. Or, an approval process that may no longer be relevant. These are the easy wins to make when pursuing effectiveness and efficiency. But at some point the cheap wins end and further moves serve only to push around the problems into other unexpected areas. The unexpected part is what can cause you trouble if you are not ready for it.

When you make something easier for you there is a good chance you are just making it harder for someone else. That isn’t always a bad thing but something to be mindful of. You haven’t actually made things easier, only easier for you. If that other party can’t or won’t do that bit anymore that complexity comes back to you. If you are not there to catch it, it gets dropped.

This is important if you have an end to end responsibility.

A classic example of this is outsourcing. Makes things less complex right ? Of course not. It just moves that problem to someone else you pay to sort it out for you. If you stop paying them and they stop doing it then you don’t get your outcome any more do you?

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."
- H. L. Mencken

Follow the flow. Get it down on paper.

When taking on complexity, how do you go about it? Objectivity. The best first check is for a written process, procedure or checklist around the work. The lack of one is a sure sign that there are very quick wins to be made. The lack of documentation is an unnecessary complication unto itself. The act of making a list transfers the complexity of consistently remembering or doing something to the checklist or tool you write it in.

You need a map to guide you through the process. A clear understanding of outcomes is required to know if you are making objective differences with your changes. Quantifying your outcomes on paper lets you objectively understand everything involved instead of the subjective way you feel about it.

Before you cull a step from the list you need to establish that you know what that step was first added to achieve. If you remove it from your list will that just push it onto someone else’s?

Things usually aren’t too complicated – they are complicated just the amount they actually are.

How do you battle complexity?