complexity-1When I talk about complexity let me make it clear. I am not talking the fact that we offer products and services over a wide geographic area, or the number of products and services we offer, or the diversity of our customers. I am talking about the individual complexity that the vast majority of us, as employees, face. The complexities that are caused by, for example, poor processes, confusing role definitions, or unclear accountabilities.

No one enjoys struggling with individual complexity – for example, processes that were initially effective but over time have become increasingly bureaucratic. Approval rules that mean it takes a frustratingly long time for decisions to filter through to the front line. Meetings that only need to be held because the process lacks clarity.   Unclear role definitions and process ownership resulting in several groups trying to solve the same problem in isolation from each other, or no one solving it at all!

Survey results from a recent Harvard Business Review article indicate that a lot of people now believe that their organisation is becoming more complicated:

  • 86 percent felt their processes had become so complex it hindered growth.
  • Half the respondents had an initiative in place to manage complexity.
  • Only 10 percent of respondents reported initiatives to manage complexity as successful.
  • More than twice as many, 25 percent, felt they had failed to tame complexity.

Complexity can be damaging to growth, performance and innovation. People deal with complexity by shutting down. They put on the goggles and focus on just getting the job done and they focus on their silo. They don’t want to look for ways to improve processes, products or services because to do so complicates their life at work and nobody wants or needs more complications in their life. We are all seeking simplification both in our professional and personal lives.

I see that there are four elements to removing complexity:

  1. Every process needs to have an owner – the person who is held accountable for the performance of the process.
  2. These process owners must have the authority to change their processes.
  3. Processes need to be easily accessed in ONE central location.
  4. Processes need to be clear and unambiguous – this means we need to keep it simple by documenting the normal process that happens 80% of the time, NOT all the permutations of it that might occur when problems arise or small deviations are required.

By reducing complexity we can remove unnecessary costs and organisational friction and improve our ability to adapt quickly. By reducing complexity we can make our everyday lives easier and more satisfying.

Oh, and just one more thing . . .  when ISO 9001  Quality Management Systems is implemented well it will reduce complexity, not increase it. More about that in another post.

All the best – Liz