Complexity

March 1, 2012

Having made a lot of ‘lean’ and ‘systems thinking’ on this blog, it was interesting to find another approach being proposed by academia. Professor Simon Collinson has stepped down from the ivory towers at Henley School of Business (if there are towers of ivory in Reading?) and with Melvin Jay, the founder of Simplicity, berated government for its complexity. This I quite accept, as it has been discussed often enough on this blog, especially when talking about the theories of Paul Henman, in that we (politicians, public servants, systems designers) make processes overly complex because the technology permits and enables this.

The publication that brought their work to my attention was the ‘Public Sector Complexity Review’ a 48 page PDF. I could then work my way back through other publications including The Complexity Challenge (36 page PDF), however I couldn’t find any academic papers supporting the topic by the author. The first report states on the first page that “public sector organisations were on average 30% more complex than their private sector counterparts”, which is no surprise when the private sector don’t contend with being directed by politicians. In the ICT context the authors state on page 9 that “the complex IT environment – a mix of large numbers of legacy systems, and new, sometimes inadequately or poorly implemented enterprise systems – can have a big impact on processes and service delivery”, which will come as no surprise either to anyone working in the arena. The authors’ answer to the dilemma is simple and is expressed on page 10 – “If the government is serious about increasing efficiency, our study shows that taking a holistic and comprehensive approach to identifying and reducing complexity and embedding a culture of simplicity throughout the public sector should be an essential part of their strategy”. I would argue that the solution to this complexity has already been found in “The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education” written by W.Edwards Deming in 1993 and is catered for by his ‘System of Profound Knowledge’.

Complexity as expressed by the authors of these two papers is an issue but its resolution is much more complex and requires a ‘whole of government’ solution.