Saturday, March 18, 2017

The "4 Re of Complexity"

How to deal with complexity? Too often, I hear "But it's so complex". As sparked by another one of my recent posts about the often prematurely assumed need for tools, here is a small model how we should approach complexity:

The 4 "Re" of Complexity

The 4 "Re" of Complexity

Resist the introduction of more complexity

You should resist the temptation of introducing complexity that you neither have nor need. Additional complexity introduces risk and effort - you want neither. Simplicity requires actively struggling against complexity. Both effectiveness and efficiency require minimal complexity.

Sometimes, you just can't avoid complexity that you neither have nor want - for example, when it's forced on you by regulatory compliance. Still, you should do your best to prevent that complexity from creeping in. Try to do the absolute minimum necessary rather than see "what else might be needed".

Reduce the need for new complexity

Sometimes, you need additional complexity of some sort to work effectively. Maybe you think about automating a process? This increases your technical complexity in an effort to reduce the complexity of manual effort. That makes sense - as long as the complexity you add to increase the efficiency of one task should be lower than the complexity you are removing.
For example, if you would use an automated testing suite with maintenance effort higher than manual testing, it doesn't make sense to automate. You would be adding more complexity than you remove - a bad deal.

Remove unnecessary complexity

Complexity is like dust on a shelf. It just adds up over time until you can only fathom the thing you originally put into place. Processes are often religiously followed without an understanding of what is needed why. When you discover that you have complexity that could be abandoned without any detriment to your business outcome - do it.

Reinvent existing complexity

Do you remember the days when you wrote a letter on a typewriter, then printed it out, only to fax it? Why don't we do that any more? Because email achieves the same purpose much faster, easier and cheaper. Even complexity that exists in your environment can be scrutinized for improvement potential. Discovering completely new ways of achieving a goal with less effort is advancement. Chances are, if you found an ingenious solution, others will benefit, too.


Never be content with complexity. Finding ways of doing the same thing simpler is essential in order to not be overwhelmed. The "4 Re of Complexity" help you dealing with complexity in an effective manner.

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