Simplifying design

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog on the Complexity of Simplicity so I wondered if I'd be repeating myself if I wrote again about simplicity. But having just re-read it I'm taking a different tack this time – no nugatory work involved.

Nugatory means something of no value or importance. Look around your organisation and see if there is nugatory work going on. It can be difficult to spot – particularly if it's part of what 'we do around here' but it's the type of thing that can slow down effectiveness. When I ask, 'What work needn't be done? 'when I'm facilitating organization design workshops people can generally provide a list of stuff like producing unread reports, or multiple re-drafting of documents, or clunky business processes or duplicative functions. Scott Adams, Dilbert cartoon strip, provides multiple fun/familiar examples. I typed 'nugatory work' into the search box on his website and got a message 'Notice: Too many results returned for your search. Displaying the first 1000 most relevant results'.

I don't remember if the reminder of the Agile Manifesto, principle that 'Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential' came up in relation to nugatory work this week but they are connected. Maximising the amount of work not done means not doing nugatory work. It also means not doing work that doesn't fall into the nugatory bucket but still doesn't need to be done.

It's a great principle for organisation designer practitioners to consider. It applies not just to examining how to make an organisation and its design simpler – in order to make it more effective in achieving its purpose, but also how to make the process of doing the organisation design work simpler. Is it necessary, for example, to assess 'as-is' is a question I get asked and 'do we need to do 'blue-sky' thinking?

Before I worked with digital people as I am now, I worked with architects and they introduced me to John Maeda and his 10 Laws of Simplicity. One of his laws is similar: 'The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction'. This is another principle that organisation designers could consider – helping people come to 'thoughtful reduction' of work processes, policies, headcount, or similar could lead to a more efficient and effectively operating organisation. Maeda's TED talk is very amusing with clear, simple visuals.

As we were talking about simplifying through maximizing work not done and thoughtful reduction people came up with a couple of other principles that could be adapted to organisation design work. Someone who'd just read Marie Kondo's book on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying (see my blog on it here) mentioned she got the book because she had such difficulty in throwing things out. Following the KonMari method worked for her. A behavioural economist suggests why the method has worked for so many people. Is it too far-fetched to suggest that the application of the behavioural economics of tidying to organisation design could help tidy and simplify an organisation?

Then in a bit of a crisis during the week, that I was angsting over, a colleague enquired whether I was 'over-processing' it – a timely remark, given that I was thinking about simplifying stuff. This enquiry triggered my searching out the 10 10 10 approach to decision making. I find it a simplifying process in that it stops the (nugatory) work of worrying and offers a pause for thoughtfulness. This principle could be applied in determining organisational decision making authority and risk – ask 'is it a decision that will matter in 10 weeks, 10 months, 10 years?' and it may help simplify things.

What principles for simplifying an organisation and doing organisation design work do you apply? Let me know.

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