So what is complexity ? and why is it common to all businesses no matter whether it’s a simple bakery with 2 employees or a multinational with 60,000 employees. In fact the bakery may have complexity but it certainly doesn’t have an assigned ‘Complexity Reduction Manager’ whose sole purpose is to reduce the complexity of the organization, complexity created by his colleagues.
Complexity takes many shapes and forms.
The first comes from complexity in procedures. Procedures are created once and whatever happens from then on is an adaptation of the original procedure. This ‘stitched’ procedure ends up with as much sense as a patchwork blanket – every little piece looks great and seems to have a theme, but altogether there is no beginning, middle, or end. In multinationals and generally companies that have merged 1,2,3,4…or 20 times, the patchwork is even worse as we then sew various patchworks on top of one another.
So a key culprit to complexity is rushing projects. I remember in the 90s we had time. Everyone had time and business was much more patient. We spoke of 3, 5 and 10 year plans. We still do of course, but knowing that ultimately our focus will be delivering the month, the quarter, and the year. At the time I remember, in my job as Business Implementation Mgr at BP, we performed a full ‘process optimization project ‘ trying to harmonise procedures across the whole business as a baseline to implement a new ERP system. In fact business was so patient that we even harmonized with the procedures of Mobil which was a merger project at the time.
Nowadays we want payback within the year – we implement systems fast (usually replicating the old system, and very often we even carry across all the previous system’s ‘rubbish data’ into the new system. And in mergers we are so eager to show the savings that we usually put one system on top of another with very poor results. A small saving relative to the daily problems that will be created by this poor implementation for many many years, costing the company one hundred times the original savings.
However Complexity is not only procedure based – it is also present in communication and reporting lines. But here the culprit is again lack of patience. Companies create silos, business units that are vertical. They then implement regional communication and reporting lines that transcend the silos previously created. At the base line there is also the local hierarchy which comes to dominate across all regional, and business units lines creating communication chaos. Everybody speaks with everybody, the same data is sent in different formats multiple times, and everybody means something different. At the end of the day the corporation then has the difficult task of reconciling the communication coming from every direction to distil some meaning.
Finally lets not forget the big problem behind complexity..EGO . Yes my friends ego lies at the heart of complexity. Although Einstein said ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough’…people’s ego makes them want to make everything complex. Have you ever been to a presentation which should be 6 slides but its 25 ? Have you ever read a chapter in a management book that seems to explain the obvious over and over again ? and I am sure you have a colleague who makes everything seem like its highly complex just to justify the time it takes for them to perform their job
See you !