Six Rules to Simplify Work

Most re-organization efforts either focus on hard stuff (processes, strategy, structure, KPI’s) or on soft stuff (culture, values, relationships, feelings). I have seen very few reorganization efforts in my career that are focused on the most important aspect of how value is delivered to customers: Simplicity

Simplicity stems from decentralization of power. “New Power” as they call it, is all about empowering people, creating conducive ecosystems for performance, learning collectively and encouraging collaboration. Most complexity in organization is introduced in an attempt to centralize power. The focus then is on adding more checks, processes, structures, metrics, KPI’s, incentives, coordinating offices and such.

Yesterday, I saw a very interesting TED talk by Yves Morieux (Boston Consulting Group) where he says,

Complicatedness: This is your battle, business leaders. The real battle is not against competitors. This is rubbish, very abstract. When do we meet competitors to fight them? The real battle is against ourselves, against our bureaucracy, our complicatedness. Only you can fight, can do it.

The talk sets the context on how organizations increase complexity and offers useful ideas on how work can be simplified. Here are my notes from the talk and I recommend you watch this insightful and provocative talk to gain a more well rounded view.

More Posts on Simplicity at QAspire

On Simplifying Through Subtraction

I am on a mission to minimize. It started with this website which went minimal a few months back. It was hard to give up on all those fancy pages, content and images that I had created before. I kept adding more pages to this website till it started feeling like a burden. Now that clutter is gone, it feels so much better. I am now extending the same fundamentals in other areas of work and life.

Outside of mathematics, it is easy to add but far more difficult to subtract.

Adding more stuff at the home, more thoughts in the mind, more pages on the website, more services in business, more features in the product, more property assets, more tasks in the day and more everything else. That’s easy.

Try eliminating what you accumulated and it is way more harder. In a world that is getting more and more complex, we seek more and more simplicity. It seems to me that subtraction is at the heart of simplicity and hence effectiveness. Lao Tzu really got it when he said,

“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day”

This may sound paradoxical but the act of subtraction is actually the act of addition in some other form. When I eliminated graphics, I added focus to the content. When we stop doing many things at a time, we create a room for more effort/focus on a few important things.

Methodologies like Kanban promote the idea of limiting the work-in-progress items. When you limit the “stuff on your plate”, you decrease distractions and increase the possibility of finishing what you started without compromising on quality.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

This applies in almost every aspect of business and life. I have seen senior leaders spending days (and nights) doing meetings to frame a grand strategy when it is really the small and basic things that they are really missing. What would happen if they trade grandeur of strategy with simplicity?

Further, what would happen if we simplify the meeting agendas and subtract the number of meetings from our work day? If we reduce the slack in each and every process to get the work done? If we stop trying to load up our teams for doing more work in less time and set them up to focus more on less number of active tasks?

These are all possibilities. To realize these possibilities, we have to actively pursue simplicity through subtraction.

You can’t juggle too many balls for long. What balls are you ready to drop? What will you subtract?


Note: I have learned a great deal about simplicity and subtraction from Matthew E. May’s blog and his book “The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything” is definitely on my reading list.

A Steve Jobs Story on Simplicity and Focus

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is on my reading list and I was curious to have some initial reviews about the book. Matthew E. May recently reviewed the book on his blog.

In a post titled “The Zen Master of Subtraction: Steve Jobs”, Matt shares some very interesting stories/snippets about how Steve Jobs generated extreme focus by virtue of elimination.

I borrow the following story from his blog:

Once a year Jobs took his most valuable employees on a retreat, which he called “The Top 100.” They were picked based on a simple guideline: the people you would bring with you if you could only take a hundred people with you on a lifeboat to your next company. At the end of the retreat, Jobs would stand in front of a whiteboard (he loved whiteboards because they gave him complete control of a situation and they engendered focus) and ask, “What are the ten things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down, and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of ten. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.”

With all the clutter around us, thinking about simplicity is hard. As individuals and organizations, we can do so many things with our abilities that we end up running in different directions to attempt all of them, spreading ourselves thin.

Most people (and organizations) do more on more. More work on more number of priorities. The key is to do more on less – more focus and better execution on a fewer set of priorities. That is what “being lean” is all about – focus on being effective, eliminate clutter, clarify your priorities and then execute like hell.

Check out Matt’s review. I now look forward to reading the book and peek into the life of Jobs.