Unraveling Complexity, Part 2

Photo showing a portion of a blackboard. Written on it are complex equations.


In part 1, I introduced the complexity topic.  Not that anyone is unfamiliar with it, but I provided some sample online definitions.  I also discussed some sources of complexity.  These included the following drivers or causes of increased complexity:

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

In this post, I’ll address questions like “why should you care?”, “what good is acknowledging it?”, “how could it impact you?”, and “what if you ignore it?”.

The best way to quickly address each of these questions is through a real-life scenario from one of the case studies I’ve collected.

Case Study

Program Objectives

Improve compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) regulations for a global safety / science company through process changes and new technology.

SOX became law in 2002 to protect investors from fraudulent financial reporting by corporations.  Section 404 requires that management and auditors establish internal controls and reporting methods to ensure the adequacy of those controls.  Our program was focused on ensuring the many financial systems and processes adhered to Section 404.

I joined the program one week before formal kickoff.  The program would impact most employees in some way, with several thousand impacted significantly.  Two integration partner companies were also involved to connect systems to a newly implemented technology.

Shortly after kickoff, we learned that there were several, significant, non-negotiable administrative and process activities required of any technology project and any global project that needed attention before we could really start.  This was an extra complexity of the environment that was a surprise to some.

As a result of these activity requirements, we halted the project, idling many resources at the three companies, delaying the project start, and damaging momentum established with the kickoff.

Additional missed elements / complexities in this program were:

  • The need to build relationships and working structure rules across the three companies.
  • A missing change management process to ensure all of the wide-reaching changes would be well received and embraced across all countries and affected teams.

Each of these other activities created additional, unaccounted for work.

While we were able to recover from these three items and get the program back on track, the surprises, frustration, and negative impact upon the program experience were avoidable.  These were obstacles that could have been proactively addressed with affects reduced.

Other Watch Areas

Here are a few other areas where complexity can similarly derail your project. These are, of course, subsets of a much larger list.

Missed stakeholder groups that could cause delays and resist change.

Technology dependencies missed, leaving gaps in support for the change to go-live.

Recurring operational cycles not reviewed, leaving personnel coverage gaps and causing additional delays.

Failure to consider learning and development needs. This is more than just sending everyone to a two-hour class sometime before go-live.

Conclusions / Wrap-Up

Returning to the questions introduced earlier about complexity:

  • Why should I care?
  • What good is acknowledging it?
  • How does it impact you?
  • What if you ignore it?

Each question gets the same answer. Impacts can be surprises, delays, additional work, work stoppages, cost escalation, loss of confidence by leadership, long-term loss of confidence in overall competency to take on the next big project, and disappointing sponsors.

Your thoughts and comments on this post are invited and always welcome. Please share your stories of complexity challenges you’ve had.

The next and final installment of this series will discuss ways to better manage complexity.

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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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