Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Finding virtue in simplicity when complexity becomes problematical, and vice versa 4

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on August 2, 2017

This is my fourth installment to a brief series on simplicity and complexity in business communications, and in carrying out and evaluating the results of business processes, tasks and projects (see Social Networking and Business 2), postings 257 and loosely following for Parts 1-3.)

I began this series (in Part 1 and Part 2) with a brief orienting outline of some general principles regarding business communications best practices. And with that in place as a working foundation for what is to follow it in this series, I briefly offered project management as a source of working examples, in Part 2 and in Part 3. And in that, I at least briefly touched upon two distinct but nevertheless vitally important faces to project work:

• The one-off nature of projects and certainly of individual projects as they address non-standard workplace demands and seek to find novel and new solutions for resolving them,
• And the more standardized system of recurringly setting up and running, and reviewing and evaluating projects per se as an ongoing and even regularly resorted to approach.

Individual projects might have one-off and even essentially unique qualities and certainly for what they each individually seek to accomplish, but project support and management systems need to be standardized, and both to set up and run projects more effectively and more cost-effectively as specific endeavors and to more effectively coordinate project work per se with the rest of the business. I have recurringly written about projects and project work in this blog; here I focused on how to more effectively communicate in this type of context.

Then at the end of Part 3, I stated that I would continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will look beyond the more limited context of projects and project management systems, to consider the business as a whole. And I begin that, by making a basic categorical distinction, just as I did when discussing projects as a special case. And the point of distinction that I make here is between:

1. Business processes that are essentially rote-standardized and for what is done and how and by whom, and with what expected inputs and outputs, and
2. Business processes that have to explicitly accommodate change and even explicit uncertainty – and that can even be in place and use in order to help the business to flexibly accommodate change.

Note that I am explicitly and intentionally positing two ends of what in reality is a continuum here, where a flexible and resilient business would have to be widely capable of responding to and resolving at least some change and even unexpected change that arrives without any real warning. And in principle at least, that type of change can arise essentially anywhere in a business and its systems; disruptive change as a special categorical case in point can and does arise where it would be least expected and that is part of what makes it disruptive. But I focus on the extremes at least here and for now, in building an organizing conceptual framework for what could be a wider and more far-reaching discussion. And for purposes of this posting at least, I will refer to these end-point categories as Type 1 and Type 2 business processes.

• Type 1 processes can become rigid and resistant to change and certainly for business activities that have become so consistently standardized that they become taken for granted and all but invisible.
• At the same time, communications patterns and processes in them can become both automatic and minimal and with sparse messaging-only required, and certainly as long as usual and expected continue to hold true.
• Type 2 processes are built around change, and the people who take part in them or who depend upon their being effectively carried out as outside stakeholders for them, have to expect that.
• At the same time, communications become both less routine and more critically important. And the level and range of types of information that would have to be shared and effectively so in them becomes significantly greater too, and certainly when compared to the opposite end of the spectrum, of Type 1.

So if disruptive change happens and either as a one-off event or as the start to what might become a new ongoing reality, it is the Type 1 and closely related processes that are going to fail, and with much higher likelihood and with much greater impact and severity, than you would in most cases find for Type 2 processes.

This represents a crucially important risk management issue, or rather set of them:

• The importance of knowing what is taken for granted and overlooked because it has become so rote and routine and reliable and so taken for granted,
• And the importance of really knowing how those areas of the business are managed and maintained through standardized, if sparse communications patterns and networks in place.

When a critically important Type 1 process or set of them breaks down, the whole business can find itself in trouble – and without having effective communications channels prepared for remediating this, or even for fully characterizing it. And at least in my experience, and perhaps I have been unlucky for this, these breakdowns always seem to happen when a business would be least prepared to respond effectively in general, where for example a key usually stable and reliable computer networking resource that has to be up 24/7 breaks down when only a skeleton staff is on duty in the middle of the night. Type 1 systems never seem to break down at opportune times. But arguably, a real Type 1 systems breakdown can make any time inopportune, and certainly if not at least thought through in advance of that.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will step back from these two extreme point considerations to consider business processes and systems of them in general. And in anticipation of that, I add that I will consider both within-business and external to the business factors that can effect and shape business efficiency and resiliency there. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its Page 2 continuation. And also see my series: Communicating More Effectively as a Job and Career Skill Set, for its more generally applicable discussion of focused message best practices per se. I offer that with a specific case in point jobs and careers focus, but the approaches raised and discussed there are more generally applicable. You can find that series at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, as its postings 342-358.

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