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The simple, the complex and simplexity

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

The simple, the complex and simplexity

Scott Miker

There is complexity all around us. The world seems to get more complex by the day.  With all of this increasing complexity, we often have to make simplicity a priority. 

Keeping things simple can be a great method for handling all of life’s details.  By remaining focused on the simple solution we can continue to improve.  But the reality is that sometimes we can’t avoid the complex details. 

At our medical repair company, we experience this daily.  With more and more customers we find more and more detail around servicing these customers. 

Years ago the company developed a great systems solution for some of this complexity.  Instead of trying to just use word of mouth or memory for this additional customer complexity, a tool was created called the “SD”.  The SD stands for supporting documentation. 

For every customer, they are given a standard template that lists out all of the various elements that they need.  Do they need a PO for us to get paid?  Does the PO come at the time we pick up their equipment to fix or after we provide an estimate?  Do they want filters on all units or just certain ones?

All of that information was easily memorized with a handful of customers and choices.  But with hundreds of customers and numerous options we couldn’t expect everyone to memorize all of this important information. 

The SD became a way to manage all of this information.  But there was a problem.  It was a new step in the process and didn’t fit neatly in the process that our technicians were using.  They would often rely on their memory instead of checking so whenever a change was made to an SD, technicians wouldn’t know. 

Plus they would start to forget some customers’ information or assume they knew what to do but didn’t take the time to verify that they were correct.  These problems could have derailed the effort but management pushed forward and kept looking for ways to better ingrain the SD in each technician’s repair process. 

It took time but eventually they were able to have the SD become a standard part of the repair process.  This allowed them to use the SD to its full capability. 

When I started with the company and heard how they developed and use the SD I was quite impressed.  They have found a systematic solution and a way to take all of the complexity around customers and standardize it.  They were able to turn complexity into simplicity. 

In Simple Complexity, author William Donaldson, PhD, says, “There is an emerging theory, proposed by several authors, called simplexity.  A combination of simplicity and complexity, simplexity theory suggests complexity and simplicity are complementary.  The system is both simple and complex.  As a manager, you must understand this duality and you must assist your employees in learning about and operating in this duality.  There is no escaping the system with all of the inherent simplicity and complexity.”

With simple and complex all around us all the time, make sure we don’t get too caught up in losing one or the other.  Both are important and need to be considered as part of a duality.  While we work hard to keep things as simple as possible, use new systems tools or processes, like the SD examples, in order to better manage both to get maximum value.