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Simply Effective


My take: good for highlighting sources of complexity. A little dryly written, kinda boring. Focuses on GE, ConAgra and huge companies and what their managers have done. These guys are consultants for those businesses so they seem to know what they’re talking about.

Ch. 1 - Unmasking Complexity

Organizations get complex from these main sources:

Structural Mitosis: organization changes, gets bigger, new touchpoints, new managers, new teams/reshape

Product & Service Proliferation: duh

Process Evolution: bug prevention, one more button, safety measures, communication measures

Managerial Behavior: makework, crappy business requirements/understanding, nebulous assignments, poor explanation and follow-up on tasks

The cure: take stock always and ask for feedback.

Ch. 2 - Structure

The factory/hierarchical model was tense from the get-go as far as managers/workers went: unions sprouted up and battles ensued.

Complex products spawn complex organizations and processes

3 Common Traps: structure before strategy, design around people and particular personalities, mechanical rather than organic structure of an organization

The cure: figure out what’s core, unchanging about your business vs. what changes with context and time, take a customer’s perspective, streamline similar products and processes, prune layers and hierarchy.

Ch. 3 - Reducing Proliferation

Volume Complexity: # of products, # of features

Support Complexity: sucky documentation, sucky understanding of processes and how they work

System Complexity: product integrations, 3rd party tools and relationships, # of servers

Design Complexity: bells and whistles, shitty UI, shitty understanding of users and needs

Ch. 4 - Streamline Processes

Find the local differences, the things that people have just done for ages for no real reason. Are they valid/valuable? Can they be combined into one way that works for other groups?

Find processes with lots of steps.

Find areas where one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing - lack of transparency across teams, etc.

The cure: map out everything and figure out where the problem spots are

Ch. 5 - Curbing Complexity-Causing Behaviors

Managers often overdo their strengths and create complexity. This coupled with them avoiding areas of discomfort creates complexity. A person who communicates well, may create problems by over communicating or bogging people down with reports. A person who’s laissez faire may create problems by leaving folks in the dark and not communicating goals/tasks.

Complexity is created in strategy and planning, goal setting, and follow-up and communication.

Strategy: how much detail is enough? This doesn’t necessarily have to be set in stone from the outset: strategy can be crafted iteratively (figure out core, let context changes update strategy over time).

Goals: usually the prime source of complexity. Task systems, processes, tracking etc. Vague goals, too many goals, dog-and-pony goals…

Communication: no feedback, complicated presentations, bad meetings, over emailing

Ch. 6 - Strategy for Simplicity

Make simple a core value, a way of life. Always measure things against it and always hold a mirror up to yourself and org to prune excess.

Preach simplicity to managers.

Simple is hard.

Ch. 7 - It Starts With You

Quit eating shit. Map out the complex things, make your case, stimulate fresh thinking and build a coalition. Demonstrate with results.