Principle #7: Simplify until nothing can be removed

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Complexity is cited as one of the main reasons a project or a business change can fail:

  • The overall architecture is too complex.
  • Business rules are bulky, tedious and sub-optimal.
  • Processes are overgrown with fluff and unnecessary steps created for political and bureaucratic reasons.
  • Forms and reports become more and more complex as new fields and dimensions are added and nothing is removed.
  • Interfaces are patched up instead of being re-engineered.
  • More and more mapping tables are added instead of using unified codes.
  • After each business transformation initiative, relationships among business groups become trickier and trickier to navigate.

In this minefield of complexity, business analysts are often struggling even to understand the current state, let alone identify how it needs to change.
Here is something important to remember — “Business processes law of entropy”:

A business process is likely to become more complex with each business change, unless a special effort is applied to optimize and simplify it. Simplifying takes more effort than leaving it as is.

 A simple, elegant and economical solution may require that you shift your perspective, let go of what you are used to, and look at the subject of your analysis from a different point of view. At the same time, patching up and adding a fix on top of another fix may be faster in short term and is not very taxing from analysis perspective.

A simpler solution, process or interface is more stable, viable and cheaper to maintain. Getting to a simpler solution requires deeper analysis and sometimes even re-engineering.

Automating exiting process can be almost mechanical – just capture what we do today and give your notes to the developer. But what would be the value? If the current process is not optimized, all you would achieve is bake the sub-optimal flow into the software and make it even harder to optimize in future.

If, instead, you apply your business analyst mindset to analyze the process for efficiency, you may find bottlenecks, unnecessary steps, handovers that no longer make sense and conditions that are out of date or even incorrect. Optimizing a business process usually requires some simplifying, and this exercise can deliver business value even without automating.

How do you know what needs simplifying?  You may start with a simple question. Whether it’s a screen, form, report or a process step, ask yourself whether it makes sense.

  • Is it clear what the objective of a process step is?
  • Does the next step follow logically?
  • Can subsequent steps be combined?
  • Is it really necessary to pass the tasks back and forth between two actors so many times?
  • Is the field, tag or label clear or somewhat ambiguous?
  • Why is a condition checked more than once?
  • Is a validation done too late and requires retracing too many steps?
  • Are all partial approvals necessary before requesting the final approval?
  • Is all this information needed on this screen? Is it helping the user to make a decision or creates confusion?
  • Are we providing too many options?
  • Is the calculation too convoluted – can the steps be optimized?
  • Can this user instruction be re-written using only half of the words?

Remember this old advice about how to pack for a trip: first, pile up everything you think you might need. Then go through the pile, and only pick what you most definitely cannot do without. Then, leave the rest at home and travel light. Most likely, you will not miss the stuff you left at home.

The same principle should be applied to business processes and systems. Determine what is essential for running the business, keep and improve that, and get rid of the rest.

 The simpler the solution, the more control we have, and the less resources we need to stay in control of our business.  If you give recommendations to your stakeholders from this perspective, you may find it easier to convince them that simplifying is good for business.

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