* Transformation

Simplicity-Minded Management

Harvard Business Review

The Idea in Brief

Big companies have always been complex. But to cope with new challenges such as globalization, they’ve increased their complexity—with proliferating products, tangled reporting relationships, and duplicated processes.

They’ve become unwieldy, ungovernable, and underperforming. And nobody likes it. Customers complain about not having a single face to a company. Employees bemoan poor communication and competition among units. Analysts demand clearer numbers. Investors decry duplication of functions.

To combat performance-sapping complexity in your organization, first declare simplicity a hard business objective, advises Ashkenas. Then attack the major sources of complexity, including accumulated changes in organizational structure, endless new-product launches, undisciplined processes, and managerial habits such as time-wasting meetings. For example, periodically audit your product portfolio, retiring offerings that have run their course and are no longer profitable.

Reducing complexity pays off handsomely. At Nortel, for instance, a companywide simplification drive generated 900 ideas that ultimately saved $14 million.