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The Complicity of Complexity

Alhfront2 I was reading to my older daughter from a great book on "Arts and Crafts" movement architecture.  (What??  You don't read architectural books to your kindergartener?  Come on!  After all, Disney Princesses only go so far....)  We were talking about what generated interest in the movement.  It hit right on the heels of the gilded age, an era of Queen Anne Victorians, ornate with a lot of foo-foo stuff that the average person has no interest in (don't get me wrong, I like a good Victorian B&B as well as the next guy).  One of the quotes from the book seriously jumped out at me, from a man credited as a major influencer of the movement:

"Have nothing in your home that is not functional or that you do not believe to be beautiful."  --William Morris.

I looked around my house.  When you have a six-year-old and a toddler, it's easy to bypass that principle.  Blocks, toys, dolls, books... we'll just say that our current decorating style can best be described as "modern American child."  I'm in awe that an entire architectural movement was created on the premise of simplicity and functionality, yet the results were incredibly stunning.  Frank Lloyd Wright's creations take my breath away.

How often to we complicate our projects?  Because I teach college classes in project management, some people accuse me of being some kind of geeky methodologist who loves to impose unnecessary project rigor.  Those who have actually worked with me know better.  I despise complexity.  As I near the end of my fourth decade on this whirling ball of a planet, I find myself craving simplicity first and foremost... let me clarify that, effective and purposeful simplicity.  Patti Digh is my favorite all-time blogospheric philosopher (I've also had the immense privilege of meeting her in person, and she is even more delightful than her cyber-presence).  Her May 8th post on Ockham's Razor is simple brilliance:

Ockham's Razor is a logical principle attributed to the mediaeval philosopher William of Ockham, a principle stating that one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed. It’s often called the “principle of parsimony,”usually interpreted to mean something like "the simpler the explanation, the better" or "don't multiply hypotheses unnecessarily." It underlies all scientific modeling and theory building, admonishing us to choose the simplest from a set of otherwise equivalent models of possible solutions. In any given model, Ockham's razor helps us to "shave off" those concepts, variables or constructs that are not really needed to explain the phenomenon.

In creating your project requirements, your project infrastructure, your plans or status, and your project org chart, don't force your project stakeholders to comply with difficult and complex concepts just to make an executive happy, or keep an auditor off your back.  Identify those items which make it more complex than it needs to be, and just get rid of them.  We build in assumptions, traditions, and sacred cows to the point where it seems nothing can be accomplished on our projects.  Let a kindergartener read it.  If they don't get it, you've probably made it too hard.  Ask yourself:

  • Does this add value?
  • Is it functional?
  • Will those using the project solution get excited about it?
  • Do I believe in it?

Like the Arts and Crafts movement, something really beautiful can be built if we just keep it simple.

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