Disciplined Agile

Inherent Simplicity (additional thoughts)

In the article Dealing with complexity by creating a bias for simplicity, we described inherent simplicity or what we like to call “a bias for simplicity.” We considered three points for how inherent simplicity helps us in improving complex systems such as organizations.

  • Inherent simplicity – the belief that inherent in complex systems is a simple model to attend to that will enable effective action. We prefer the term, “a bias for simplicity.”
  • Factors for simplicity – what to look when your company is doing product or service development
  • Using simplicity factors to achieve good results predictably – how a bias for simplicity helps to improve your organization’s effectiveness

This current article offers some additional thoughts about the bias for simplicity. It is for readers who want to look a bit deeper. Consider this to be an appendix to the main article.


Why a Bias for Simplicity Is Important

In “The Choice”, Dr. Goldratt, creator of the theory of constraints, offers the idea that inherent in complex systems are rules that, when understood, enormously simplify how to look at the system. These rules already exist. We must find them and take advantage of them. Dr. Goldratt calls this  “inherent simplicity.” In knowledge work, these are typically defined by the laws of flow, lean, and the theory of constraints.

This is not just a better approach. This “bias for simplicity” helps us avoid significant dangers. Dr. Goldratt goes on to tell us, “The first and most profound obstacle is that people believe that reality is complex, and therefore they are looking for sophisticated explanations for complicated solutions. Do you understand how devastating this is?” 

It is the search for sophisticated explanations that is devastating. It feeds a fallacy that the more sophisticated an explanation is, the more respectable it is. It is a fool’s errand. Ultimately, these complexities can be understood through simplicity. Simpler explanations are available. We have to train ourselves to look.

Dr. Goldratt is not saying that these systems can be made simple. We cannot take a mechanistic approach to improvement. People and systems are still complex and unpredictable. Improving behavior in an emergent manner is the best we can hope for. But it does mean we can have clarity on what would make improvements or would provide clarity on what would do so.

We already have a great deal of experience with a bias for simplicity. It is often called “intuition.” When we make an endeavor to discover this consciously, we become more adept at it and can greatly increase our understanding of what we need to do.

We need to free ourselves from our biases for complexity.

To learn more about Inherent simplicity, watch the six-minute video, Inherent Simplicity by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt.


We Need Feedback, no Matter How Well We Think We Understand Things

In knowledge work, there is always the potential for misunderstandings and for chaotic events in which small errors can cause big damage. It means that no matter how confident we are, we should always be suspicious of our actions. We should use feedback to ensure we’re getting the results we want.

If we don’t get the results we anticipate, begin to ask why. It may be that we are in a part of the system that is unpredictable, but more likely is there is a relationship that we either are not paying attention to or are misunderstanding.

No matter if the feedback confirms our expectations or reveals challenges, we learn about the system and the relationships we are in. And learning is a way of adding value.

In PDSA terms, feedback is the necessary “study” before we can act.


A Set of Factors

We have pulled out the factors for simplicity because they are often overlooked and need to be considered. But other factors are important as well – particularly those that affect how to change value streams. These are issues relating to culture (including perceived safety), management, people’s attitudes, etc. These have pulled out of here because these relate more to how value streams can be improved instead of what’s happening with the value stream.

The factors for simplicity are just part of a set of factors that impact the effectiveness of value streams. Of course, there are other factors such as safety, management, attitudes, history, and culture. Value stream management requires a systems approach to improvement. It takes all of these factors into account for effecting change to the culture of the organization.

Over time, we will begin to create a collection of solutions that apply to our organization, solutions or actions that are effective in addressing the relationships and forces in our context. These become the solution patterns for our organization so we don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel.