Unraveling Complexity, Part 1


Every day we go to work we do battle with complexity.  It seems that it’s coming at us from all sides, sometimes from new and unexpected sources. In this series of posts, I’m going to discuss complexity and ways to address it so it does not derail your plans. This first post lays out definitions and recognition.

I talk a lot about complexity because it drives my work and is a source of skills I’ve developed to work inside complex environments and projects.

A close friend of mine and marketing expert advised me to stop using the word complexity because people are tired of it and feeling overwhelmed.  I understand that.  These days there’s a lot to be overwhelmed about.

Alternative word suggestions offered were multi-tiered, multi-faceted and layered.

Whatever you want to call it is fine. It’s core characteristics, what causes it, and how to deal with it doesn’t change.

What is Complexity?

Those definitions do not seem very helpful. Especially the second one which tells us what complexity is NOT.

You know what it is and you know that it seems to always be increasing in our work environments and daily lives.

What are the sources?

Complexity is driven or increased:

  • by the number of moving parts or elements in a system
  • by the diversity of those elements being of different types and quality
  • by the way they interrelate to each other. I call these “intersections”
  • by the timing of exposure to elements
  • by the duration of impact

We’re all trying to get stuff done while surrounded with this complexity.

It’s not the thing itself to worry about, but everything else.

When I think of what drives complexity, I think a lot about things external to the specific project or activity. You are going along, “head down”, and get surprised. Other things are going on in the environment using resources, there are system and process dependencies, and organizational strategies all impacting your projects and each other.

Watch this brief video about complexity in our environments for further insight.

These things can create headaches, obstacles, delays, cost overruns, and an unpleasant experience.

How are complexities in your environment or in the nature of your projects creating difficulty in meeting your goals? Please comment on this topic.

In the next post of this series, Unraveling Complexity, Part 2, we’ll look at why you should care and how it impacts you.

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The founder, Evan Lenhardt, holding a small blackboard with chalk writing that says "challenge".

Since 2002, I’ve focused on wrangling complexity in transformational projects in banking and other industries, while developing the Readiness Assurance© practices that I provide to help you address preparation and planning challenges.

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