Reaching your objectives while handling the complexity of the organization

Here we are. A fresh new year is beginning. Hopefully you were able to take a rest during the Christmas break. Typically, this period offers room for reflection. To not only think about what has happened, but also about what is yet to come. So, have you been making plans for 2021? And if so, have you thought about the execution?

Executing the strategy

Often, we do not stop with just an idea about what the future should look like. We also have a general idea on how to realize that idea. Let’s call that our strategy. Future and a general plan of attack. It is imperative to have a strategy as an organization. Perhaps you refined your strategy recently or you came up with a new one after Christmas dinner. Either way, the question you are now facing is: can we execute upon that strategy?

That’s a valid question. A question that should be answered via a multitude of perspectives. Do we have the capabilities? Can we free up the funds required for innovation? One perspective we often find overlooked has to do with the organizational structure. One might look at the required skills and set-up of teams, but is that actually enough?

In order to execute the strategy successfully, one must look at the organization holistically. The strategy sets out to solve a problem and to have an impact on the people that experience that problem. Decisions on strategy execution have implications for organizational structure, process and social interactions. We explicitly design a structure or a process. Other things just grow naturally without a design, by accident one could say. We need to be sure that structure or process is actually helping us instead of hindering us. The theory and mindset of complexity can help us here.

Talking about complexity

Various definitions can be used to describe complexity. We use the following definition:

“The phenomena which emerge from a collection of interacting objects”

in other words, complexity includes as all the things that happen because we work together, need something or interact. Let’s take an example of a verbal conversation where I ask you for directions to a hotel. Simply having that conversation displays interesting things. If we both speak English, in a quiet room, and with a normal volume the conversation will be easy. Now suppose you play loud music on your headphones. Or imagine that I speak Dutch and that you don’t understand that language. This uncovers some new phenomena: most likely, I will use hand gestures to convey my message. I will repeat my question multiple times, slowly and with simple words. For you as receiver the burden is upon you to let me know you understood something or not.

This simple conversation just became a lot harder because we did not the same language. All those things that popped up are the phenomena which we call complexity. If I only speak Dutch and you don’t understand Dutch, that is the complexity we have to deal with. We call this “essential complexity”. We cannot take essential complexity away.

On the other hand, we have accidental complexity. It is about the things that we add to the essential problem. In our example imagine you as a receiver have your headphones while I am talking to you. It’s a choice you make but makes the problem at hand harder to solve.

Complexity in organizations

Throughout organizations we find different forms of accidental complexity. It can be found in the handovers between teams. Required processes before a team is allowed to put software into production. Power structures that live in an organization. Technological or architectural choices. They all add to the complexity of the problem and in most cases, they are of the accidental kind.

Organizations can benefit from reducing or even eradicating accidental complexity. The DevOps movement is a great example of removing accidental complexity. The DevOps principle to instill end-2-end responsibilities to remove handovers is a good way to reduce accidental complexity.

Social conflicts between teams and individuals are a huge source of accidental complexity. Conflicts can arise from difference of insight or cultural differences. Either way, these disagreements between teams can stand in the way of executing of your strategy.

Let’s say your strategy entails learning quicker from your customers. Adding new approval processes that add complexity will not help you to reach that goal. If it’s slow right now, you need to remove something. Perhaps existing approval processes?

Assessing the execution of your strategy

So, back to your New Year’s resolutions. While refining your strategy or defining a new one, have you also looked at different execution perspectives of it? Is your organization able to progress on the desired path? Surely you are aware of technological and product perspective. We think it is important to be at least as critical to the organizational perspective. This helps you to determine what accidental complexity should be removed to enable you to reach your goals.

Earlier in 2020 Evelyn van Kelle and I presented more about complexity and why we believe business and IT should work as one. Our webinar can be watched here.

Need Help on …

At Qxperts, we have developed an assessment that can help you to provide a holistic view on the software delivery capabilities of your organization. This assessment not only focuses on the technical capabilities, but also on the organizational structure and its interactions. It’s a good way to get fresh perspectives on the current situation and if it matches with prospected future objectives.