Kill complexity to boost innovation

Survey results from a recent HBR article indicate that a lot of people now believe that their business is becoming more complicated:

  • 86 percent felt their business 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 is bad for business

Complexity can be damaging to growth, performance and innovation.

A complex, confusing workplace leaves people feeling overwhelmed. Teams retreat into silos and focus on just getting the job done, rather than looking for ways to improve the business. Complexity also hinders collaboration.  As I discussed in my recent People and Process webinar, it can limit cross-team sharing & shifting of workloads.

One way to win business these days is to promise to deliver on customers’ varied needs.  Many businesses are chasing this gain without considering how that added complexity might be impacting their future growth. It’s short sighted to simply add more customer, product and service options into the mix without considering other downstream impacts - particularly your organisation bearing the operational strain of delivering all of these options consistently to the different customers that need them.                                                 

Four elements to removing complexity

To be able to meet new challenges and set yourself up to simplify your business, consider whether your teams have embedded the following disciplines and tools that can help drive simplicity:

  • All business processes have accountable ‘owners’
  • Process owners have the authority to change their processes
  • A process platform exists - the one single point of truth for process information
  • This knowledge platform is simple enough for teams to self-manage

Bringing these four elements together will first of all expose the complexity of processes.  Sometimes it takes demonstrating the complexity in full glory to help stakeholders realise the extent of this problem. 

Armed with this knowledge, teams can collaborate to remove complexity - an innovation roadblock. Teams will feel empowered to drive change, simplify their work and to find better, faster ways of doing things.

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