Complexity, continued

I got some pushback on my definition of complexity–people thought I oversimplified it. Through discussion, there were good points made.

People trying to protect their jobs is NOT the most common cause of unnecessary complexity. Often, people are asked to do things with little help or training, and they do the best they can in the time given. Often this leads to a hack or patch just to get the item off the table, and these build up. In programming, this is called technical debt, a debt that must be paid down with hard, often boring, work. In management, this often happens when fixing a problem in the short-term, for example assigning an employee to a new manager rather than addressing the root problem. In accounting, the word “allocation” leads down a twisted path of complexity: if you begin allocating costs to other areas within the company to help with job or product costing, you’re creating unnecessary complexity. The approach taken by Eli Goldratt in The Goal and subsequent books was revolutionary in its simplicity, not in its new idea.

I’ve created unnecessary complexity in projects I’ve tackled by not seeing the elegant way to solve a problem. When people are tasked with something over their heads, the solution they come up with is often impressively complex. In these situations, the history turns into baggage, weighing down the person mired in the problem.

Probably the most common form of complexity is completely human, the swirling mixture of pride, failure, honor, success, jealousy, personality, and relationships that form anytime people are together. This political complexity happens in all organizations, and it is the rare company that can avoid all of the negative ramifications of it.

Where it becomes dishonest, in my eyes, is when given a truly better way to solve the problem, the maintainer of the system refuses to even contemplate it. You must be willing to examine the complexity you have created and that you have allowed others to create around you. And you must be willing to tackle the complexity through hard work and clear thinking to avoid allowing the entire system to grind to a halt.

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