Transformation Consulting

Operations Pain Points Solved: Managing Complexity

This blog is part of a series about the operations pain points that many organizations face as they tackle digital transformation and change management. Our experts provide insights and recommendations based on their decades of hands-on experience and tackle some of the most pressing business and technology pain points.

In this edition of “Operations Pain Points Solved,” guests Shaun Herbert and Falk Fischer from our Transformation Consulting professional services team answer customer questions around managing and reducing complexity as they work to transform their business.

Shaun Herbert has over 20 years of experience working directly with customers in both the public and private sectors. His background in technical and administrator roles led to managing IT departments and ultimately into consulting at Microsoft. He’s currently a consulting architect for transformation services at VMware and is passionate about customers gaining value and “light bulb moments” from our services.

Falk Fischer has previously worked as an IT administrator and technical architect and brings 18 years of experience to his role as a consulting architect for transformation services at VMware. He’s passionate about corporate culture and views projects through a “culture filter” to bring positive outcomes to customer projects.

What is the role of adaptability in reducing unnecessary complexity?

Shaun: There are two principles we always talk about: never over-engineer and improve everything. We have to be able to take a step back and simplify what we’re doing or find new, more efficient ways of doing it. Technology changes fast and we have to adapt to change with it.

Falk: We work with existing technology, processes, and people. We need to accept that some of that must change and we can’t always just attach new things. We may have a good opportunity to start from scratch – a blank piece of paper – but often that’s not the case. We like to ask customers to tell us what they would want if they did have a fresh start without the restrictions of their current conditions, and then plan from that perspective to adapt their circumstances so that they can start approaching their target state.

As time passes, organizations may lose understanding of certain elements, how they work together, and whether they’re achieving their intended function. How does this translate regarding manageability?

Shaun: In every organization, each silo has its view of the world. It’s hard for silos to understand what other areas care about or how they work. What are the design principles that drive their behaviors? How do they learn about projects that might affect their area going on in other areas? These are the types of things that we bring to the forefront to encourage collaboration and start addressing redundancies and inefficiencies. Breaking down silos and aligning to the business needs allows groups to show and truly add value to what the organization is delivering.

Falk: In today’s environments, we mostly talk about managing complexity and not reducing it. There are usually many functional units in an organization, and there is no end-to-end understanding. To make complexity manageable, we need to slice elements into small and simple things, but also have an umbrella layer that provides transparency for the full scope of the environment.

What can an organization do to combat the constant buildup of new elements and their generated complexity?

Shaun: Organizations can take the step to say, “Let’s not drag that baggage with us. We’re going to look at this with fresh eyes and take a new approach.” When they invest and actively sponsor a new way of doing things, they allow their people to come up with a new way of working together to find solutions.

Falk: Simplification is something to celebrate. It adds value. Sometimes organizations only celebrate adding new capabilities and features. But simplification includes thinking about your principles and goal setting to get down to the simplest solutions. If an organization thinks about adding something new, they need to consider what that is replacing instead of just adding. It’s the same as if you get new shoes and want to store them in your closet, then you should remove an old pair of shoes to make room.

What is your process for eliminating complexity so that critical interconnections of elements remain while redundant or irrelevant ones are removed?

Shaun: One of the good mechanisms to use is value stream mapping. You view your efforts, activities, tooling, and handoffs in a process to produce something. Running through this exercise a few times between different functions reveals the relationships and dependencies between areas. Organizations are better able to spot single points of failure, time and product waste, and improve their production cycle with simplifications to remove those things.

Falk: Making things transparent and visible is key. I had one interesting situation in which a super simple process had ten handovers between different teams. It was due to small silos within teams that felt they had to defend their capabilities. But once we put the process on paper and teams were on board to change, we discovered that approval was centralized at a high level and removed from the process. Why? The further away from the process you get for final decision-making and approval correlates with higher complexity. We try to remove those extra layers as much as possible to keep functions moving efficiently.

Some organizations face psychological resistance from employees when change is on the horizon. How do you frame the reduction or management of complexity to those organizations when the process will result in noticeable change as they go about their work?

Shaun: Organizations need to make sure that people understand why the changes are necessary and the possible effects those changes will have. It can’t be a super-secret thing. The strategy and vision must be clear so that people buy into it, and there has to be a strong connection of “what’s in it for me.” People should be encouraged to be a part of the change. Organizations need to make sure that their people are not simply aware, but also understand what’s happening and be “on board” before they shift them into new functions or roles. They also need to provide knowledge and training.

Falk: The only constant is change. It’s important for people to have a connection. One way to accomplish this is to create more cross-functional transparency to reduce territorial or defensive behaviors that can hinder progress and real change.

If there was just one thing that an organization should remember about managing or reducing complexity, what would that be?

Shaun: I think that to sit down as a team and create the “why” is very important. Why are we doing this? Why do we need these changes? What is the value of what we’re trying to achieve?

Falk: Sometimes, a process is followed that was put in place years ago by someone who isn’t even an employee anymore. No one knows why they do it – they just do. These are the things that people need to speak up about by asking “why” until there’s a satisfactory answer to continue or stop doing it.

Want to learn more?

The “Operations Pain Points Solved” series highlights common issues faced by organizations everywhere. Read the other blogs in this series to learn about establishing a target operating model, optimizing the customer experience, transformation planning, managing people, and more.

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  1. This is such a great blog. Thanks for sharing more information. Very useful and valuable content. I found lot of interesting information from your post.

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