Sunday, May 1, 2011

Simplicity v Complexity

Heard recently:

Simplicity requires a lot of complexity
Jack Dorsey
Founder, Square, Inc
Can you repeat that?

Making it simple for the user/customer/beneficiary often requires a lot of 'backstage' complexity.  Ask any system engineer.  Indeed, ask those that manage the 'experience' at Disney World!

Project managers beware!  Often, the sponsor's vision is simplicity itself.  And, the sponsor makes resource commitments on their idea of value.  But the sponsor's value allocation of resources may not comport with the resource allocation needed to make project outputs simple for the user/customer/beneficiary.

Why should it?  PM's can't assume the sponsor has any real idea of how to make the vision a reality.  That's for the project team to discern.

Inevitably, there's going to be a gap: a gap between a value allocation on the one hand and a implementation estimate on the other hand.  What bridges the gap?  RISK!  And of course, it's left to the project manager to the be chief risk manager.

Don't expect much help from the sponsor to close the gap.  Just the opposite: expect demands that you close the gap!

I've expounded on this idea before.  I call it the 'project balance sheet': a way to represent the three variables that inform every project charter: sponsor value expectation, project implementation need, and the risk between them.

The tension of simplicity and complexity is ultimately a tension between value and resources.  Beware simplicity!

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  1. Good post - I think much of our programmatic discussions of simplicity and complexity end up being inappropriately simplistic. That is, we tend to equate simplicity with ease... and make no distinction between surface simplicity and "under the hood" simplicity. While deep, profound simplicity is indeed something to be desired, superficial simplicity ends up being expensive, frustrating and (ironically) complicated.

    On that note, you might like a little book I wrote (pardon the shameless self-promotion), titled The Simplicity Cycle. It takes a look at the cost and the value of complexity in design and you can download the free PDF version here:

  2. John,

    How did you get an expectation value of 6 days? I get 1.5, which is consistent with your dollar amou

  3. Bill: good catch! After 3000+ views of this presentation, someone caught the error. The presentation was given some 11 years ago with a different set of numbers, then updated for slideshare, and some of the numbers got hosed up, as you found.

    I have replaced the presentation with an updated one

  4. Joh, thanks for the revision, that was fast! I'll pass the link along.


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