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27 Nov 2014

Dealing with Complexity

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Apocalyptic Decision Making

Dealing with complexity is one of the four horsemen of apocalyptic decision making.

Complexity is one of the four horsemen of apocalyptic decision making.

When dealing with complexity, simplifying it to the point of unrealism so it’s easier to understand becomes a major danger. As the article, “What VUCA Really Means for You” (Harvard Business Review, January 2014 edition) by Nathan Bennett and G. James Lemoine, indicated; when any of the four horsemen of apocalyptic decision making (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity [VUCA]) confront us, we frequently shirk planning and strategizing. This series provides tips for avoiding this.

Situations containing many parts, variables and aspects are complex. Of all the four horsemen, complexity is the most particular to the enterprise. Complexity to small organizations could be routine for large ones. Regardless though, complexity usually arrives in the form of scale, refinement, coordination and politics.

As Bennett and Lemoine point out, complexity can come from sheer scale of things to consider. For example, companies used to doing small mergers might suddenly become overwhelmed by larger ones. Basic tasks aren’t different. Their scale and scope are though.

Complexity as refinement often appears as improving quality and efficiencies well beyond current norms. Suddenly picking up customers with more stringent product specifications, delivery requirements or product customization are examples.

Coordination becomes complex especially when crossing functional and reporting lines. Opening a new location far from current ones will often requiring coordination among many aspects of the enterprise.

Internal political considerations can add complexity to the simplest efforts. For instance, high growth involving hiring of new and better talent can destabilize jobs, relationships, reporting structures and “pecking order.”

Dealing with complexity of these types often involves:

  • Allocating project and program managers to coordinate activities
  • Assigning executive or senior managers comfortable with complexity to provide vision and guidance to project managers and teams
  • Beefing up needed specialties
  • Fully tapping systems and data to monitor and manage
  • Augmenting general staff to handle scale complexity
  • Producing extensive internal communications and allocating human resource professionals to temper political complexity
  • Contracting consulting firms to provide needed expertise and experience
  • Readjusting timeframes and deadlines
  • Establishing new processes and infrastructure

The complexity’s permanency will modify these activities, contracting versus hiring for instance. In short though, dealing with complexity usually means teamwork.


Series Navigation<< Apocalyptic Decision Making – Dealing with UncertaintyDealing with Ambiguity >>

3 Responses

  1. Pingback : Dealing with Complexity – Influencing and...

  2. Quoting: “In short though, dealing with complexity usually means teamwork.” With all four VCUA, I’d strongly argue successful outcomes mean teamwork!!! It might seem strange initially but is absolutely true: With leadership facilitating teaming skills (including team-generated operating principles, effective learning skills, and effective problem solving skills), teams will be prepared and thus more comfortable / confident in dealing with complexity and the other three – regardless of the level of surprise or even shock with which it is encountered.

    A great point made in this piece relates to organization size: Whereas larger companies will have teams of employees most likely, small companies most likely will rely on outside participation. For the latter, there is no reason why the teaming skills must or should be less important or possible!

    1. Mike Lehr

      Yes, John, teamwork can be valuable to all of four VCUA. I do believe though, it plays a more critical role in complexity. That is my reason for special mention in it. Uncertainty, volatility and ambiguity can mean confinement to a narrow, singular area or attribute. Nonetheless, you raise a valid point for consideration in any of these.

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