It took Han Hoffman, a German American painter, to clearly explain what Simplicity really implies and guess what, – it’s simple. With a few distinct words Mr. Hoffman offers us a well-defined appreciation of the idea of simplicity, that being; “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” You might also say – eliminate the unnecessary to reveal the necessary. This fundamental notion is capable of being able to enhance all forms of ventures; however, for my discussion I will be focusing on management. For, I believe, it is in management systems that this elementary truth, expressed by these plain words, can have its greatest impact.
As an example, I would like you to take a moment and think about a management system documentation that you may have been involved with at your work. The documentation, to which I refer, are what I like to identify as “command media”, – manuals, procedures, plans, work instructions, bulletins, etc.” In my work with management systems, I am often required to review and evaluate an organization’s command media. I often find myself alarmed by the amount of excessive, bloated, and surplus documentation many organizations employ to define their processes and work. I am commonly led to their documentation stored on bookcases and file cabinets or their electronic equivalent. I find the storage aera which is often heaped with overstuffed folders and bulging files or in the words of our friend Dilbert a “big Honkin’ binder” (Adams 1994). I must wade through masses of superfluous data to unearth the material I require. These efforts are terribly time consuming and extremely frustrating. What is the purpose and value of so much unnecessary “boiler plate”, needless filler, and pointless clutter. This pointless text obscures the necessary and important information. It provides no value to the document’s intended purpose and often leads to confusion and errors, which in turn results in the degraded value of the command media. If these conditions are allowed to continue, the organization will soon find that people will no longer rely on their command media for help and information but will seek out other ways to accomplish their tasks. These other ways frequently are not in the organization’s best interests.
What I have offered here is one example of what over complexity and other complications can do to impair an organization’s management system. In this case an organization should surely examine their documentation process and confirm that it is properly supporting their efforts and satisfying its intended purpose. If not, immediate corrective action and improvement should be sought that would simplify and eliminate the non-value adding elements in their command media – so that the “necessary may speak” clearly. I would also further strongly recommend that all organizations include in their documentation process a few simple (yes, simple) safeguards, to include:
- Periodic reviews of their command media to detect and cleanse non-value adding elements and redundancies.
- New document review process should include some form of filter to detect and eliminate the unnecessary and redundant.
- Document templates should also be reviewed to remove unnecessary requirements and “boilerplate.”
Documentation is just one area of many in the typical management system that is vulnerable to the dangers of over and unwarranted complexity. I would strongly encourage leadership to both champion and support efforts for simplification in their organization where it can provide the most value.