How Complexity Leads to Simplicity

This post originally appeared November 22, 2010 on

If you’re unfamiliar with TedTalks, I highly recommend checking them out as there is a lot of great material there. This recent mini-chat with Eric Berlow is no exception. This talk illustrates very well a principle that I try to follow in my life as a business analyst.

An example of how this plays out in the life of a business analyst…

There is a project that we’re starting at work which has been on the table for a couple of years now. Everyone believed that the project would be worth our time doing, but there wasn’t a good business case that could be made for it as there would be no measurable increase in income and only a minor decrease in cost. There were numerous intangible benefits for doing the project, but few quantifiable benefits.

One of the development managers who was recently brought into the discussions, but who had not been included on the discussions of the last two years, started making statements to the developers about their vision for the solution. That’s fine, except that their view of the solution 1) required a large number of intermediate tables to be created and then maintained for the solution to work and 2) displayed that data in a way with which would be unfamiliar to the users of the new application.

Its not that the development manager’s solution was bad, it was just needlessly complex. Once the developers and I had a chance to talk and I explained the actual prototype I had reviewed with the sponsors, you could see the light go on in their mind as to how what I was explaining was considerably less complicated, if no less complex.

What was the difference between the solution I presented and the one presented by the development manager? Mine eliminated complexity while maintaining ease of use for the user by mimicking a screen they were intimately familiar with. Yes, the other solution could potentially, but not guaranteed, make for a relatively fewer number of mouse clicks but only at the cost of considerably more complex code and a larger price to maintain the application in the long run. In return for this minor potential gain in low cost user efficiency, it substituted a guaranteed higher cost to develop and administrate.

So what about you? How have you worked to eliminate needlessly complicated processes and systems in your organization?