Over time our businesses become more complex. This is natural, right? We grow as a business and we become more complex as a result. Well, yes and no. It is true, in general, that businesses become more complex over time as they grow. They need to serve more customers, sell more, deliver more, etc. However, the frontrunners do this not by becoming more complex, but by becoming more lean and systematic.
Without leaning out a business as it becomes more complex, the cost of eventually leaning them out grows. And, like interest on a growing line-of-credit, the cost of complexity accumulates over time; and just like interest, if not managed, the impact on day-to-day operations can overwhelm our business.
Complexity debt is a term used in the software world to describe accumulating unresolved software issues in a system as it grows over time. If the issues are not dealt with as they arise, they accumulate. Over time, the cost of resolving issues rises. Resolving one complicates the resolution of others. In this way, the cost of complexity increases over time, like compounding interest. Just as debt can bring a business down if it grows without limit, so too, can complexity grind progress to a halt or even cause a business to fail.
The solution to complexity debt in the software world is to re-architect or “refactor” the system to take into account changes in the world, demands on the software and realities of newly available technologies.
A similar principle or approach should be taken with business. As changes in outside forces occur; customer demands, the economy and cost of inputs should be incorporated into the business processes to avoid having to do it all at once at a time dictated by outside events.
These changes come in varying doses that are not always within our control. Requests from customers to provide a new innovative service or product probably occur on a regular basis while major regulatory changes such as the rules related to Sarbanes Oxley happen less frequently. While these rare, major changes may have larger impacts, both can be used as opportunities to fight complexity creep.
If a major new facility is planned, operations of the new AND existing facilities should be reviewed. Take the opportunity to identify lessons learned and apply them to existing operations and the design of the new operations. If a review has just been completed, turn the organization’s attention to the details of addressing customer satisfaction and responding to customer requests for improvements.
By limiting the number of change initiatives underway, an organization can fight the complexity associated with change. If a major change is underway, postpone or eliminate any unrelated, minor effort. On the other hand, if no major pressures are acting on the organization at a particular time, more minor initiatives can be undertaken.
If you are feeling as though your business simply cannot make progress and seems to be on a treadmill, now might be a good time to look at the complexity of what you’re doing.