Complexity is a Myth

Life is a lot simpler than it appears!

Click on this picture to simplify

The first step is often the hardest

One of my first and still favourite consultancy projects concerned a lean-transition in an established German SME. Some of the best ideas came from a manager who had a pessimistic reputation. His colleagues told me "he has a fitting problem for every solution".

I'll admit, I was frustrated at the start, but soon realised he was one of the most important factors in our success story. He was caught up in the details and just needed some help from his colleagues to see past the complexities of his day-to-day business. He soon embraced the lean way of thinking, turned his "why nots" into "hows", became a good friend and was certainly a hero in that story.

There are no complex solutions, only complex workarounds

We are all guilty from time to time of jumping for the quick-fix to keep things moving. Especialy in a period of sustained growth, companies can feel forced to impliment compound workarounds to keep their customers happy. Just like a lie, each workaround needs more workarounds to be sustained and we soon loose touch with how simple life could be.

Imagine an ice-cream parlour who only manufactures a batch of chocolate ice-cream this week and tells you to return next week if you would like vanilla! They will kindly explain that they have bought a new machine to clean their spoons, which needs to be full of spoons before washing becomes commercialy viable! Does that sounds rediculous?

Always strive to improve a running system

At the start of an improvement project, the focus is often on the processes, which fail to deliver, but not always on the root causes of these failures - the workarounds.
To find the simple solution, we must carefully challenge all of these workarounds, which can of course be uncomfortable in a "running system".

Regardless whether I'm helping people to reorganise their production area, deliver a challenging project or working on a strategic improvement project at HQ, there is always a simple truth hiding in full view.

Change your altitude to change your attitude

It's sometimes bewildering to see how people from completely different industries can live the same illusion that their market is the hardest to deliver to, living in a virtual world where the grass is much greener in every other organisatiuon.

The Brits talk about levels of granulation. In Germany, they refer to the startegic altitude of your analysis. I tend to ask people to put on their blurred glasses so they can no longer make out the lines, just the colours. By forgetting the details, we are able to think about the key-goals of an organisation, define what I call the "non-discussables" and establish the essence of what we are here to do.

We can then re-assess our detailed processes and ask ourselves which elements of them are helping and which are holding us back or causing issues downstream. You can download the two handouts on this page to help you get back to basics. (see below)

As silly as it might sound, accepting that the current situation could easily be better is often the largest challenge. There are some excellent examples of previously immensly complex organisations, who have profited from simplifying their working models and I emplore you to do the same.

A final thought - if you are very lucky...

Optimisation seldom requires massive investments or a miracle.
If you are really lucky however, you might find you have the World's first unsolvable problem, but what if... what if things really could be as simple and profitable at your company as in an ice-cream parlour?

Learning to recognise simplicity

If you search for complexity, you will find it. If you accept the problem as unavoidable, you will build complexity around it. Stop for a minute and consider your situation. What if everything is a lot simpler than it seems?

See these articles for tips on accelerating progress.