In an effort to manage the complexity of the marketplace, many businesses end up creating more complexity internally. They tack new processes and procedures onto existing systems, hoping to defeat challenges with an expansive arsenal of documentation and intricate production streams. Customer demands surge into support queues from social media, contact forms, and support tickets with a heightened sense of urgency. Every day brings new competitors whose strengths and weaknesses must be assessed and accounted for within these complex systems.
It’s time to stop fighting complexity with more complexity. Truly agile and responsive business processes are the result of intentional and intelligent simplification. Visuals can play a critical role in helping decision makers clearly understand and identify opportunities to streamline complex systems.
THE COMPLEXITY EFFECT
When unwarranted complexity is introduced to business processes and systems, teams struggle to maintain speed and agility. In these overly complicated organizations, teams spend as much as 60% of their time on non-value-added activities. Decisions take far too long, calendars are packed with meetings, and everyone spends too much time drafting reports or attempting to understand new procedures.
With so many options to consider, people to involve, processes to manage, and facts to analyze, teams can quickly lose direction. And as more time is spent in these administrative functions, benefits like creativity, innovation, and meaningful collaboration fall to the wayside.
HOW TO REDUCE COMPLEXITY WITH VISUALS
It can be tempting to disguise complex thinking and processes behind a curtain of words. While words are necessary for outlining and explaining systems, they also make it easier for us to dance around questions and get tangled in tangents.
The best way to clear out the clutter of complexity is to distill processes, roadmaps, and strategies into simple visuals. Visuals demand specificity and clarity. They force us to prove our concepts and ideas. Teams cannot ignore gaps in business strategies or processes when they have to diagram everything out and show each step, relationship, and dependency.
There are five key ways that businesses can use visuals to reduce complexity:
1.Map out the details.
Visual tools, like maps and flowcharts, are the best way to lay out every initiative, strategy, and procedure on the table and illustrate how all the moving parts work together. Diagramming processes, building product roadmaps—even simply plotting out your strengths and weaknesses on a SWOT analysis chart—all give businesses valuable insight into the cycles of cause and effect that can determine successes and failures. This kind of clarity makes it easier to decide on next steps and the direction your teams need to take next quarter, next year, and 10 years from now.
2.Identify areas to be simplified.
If your organization depends only on written documentation, you have to parse through piles of documents and spreadsheets to locate critical process information, creating unnecessary complexities in moving the business forward. Compare that to pulling up a visualized process flow that shows—at a glance—20 tasks all dependent on the same individual contributor and all due on the same day. The complexity becomes obvious. Visuals reveal these kinds of invisible bottlenecks and dependencies that contribute to increased complexity. You might know that a certain business process within your organization isn’t working. It might feel bulky and inefficient. But until you sit down and visualize each step of that process, you and your teams will have a hard time identifying from written documents exactly where the bottlenecks are and how you can streamline your process.
Think about how your organization handles internal communication. You probably have email, a workplace messaging system, shared documents, project management software, and other communication tools. With so many systems in place, notes, comments and action items are dispersed across different platforms, and it’s difficult for people to find the most accurate information or understand expectations at any given time. In contrast, a visual collaboration suite allows you to introduce diagrams for process flows and roadmaps into your communication systems, helping team members to understand project scope, dependencies, goals, and status at a glance. When these visuals are shared to the cloud, your teams can easily collaborate together in real time and always make sure everyone has the most up-to-date information. Everything is in one place and easy to access.
4.Highlight the why.
Sometimes teams get caught up in the weeds of a project, so focused on the details, that they forget where a project fits into the larger business strategy. The initial customer needs or process-improvement goals that inspired the project can get lost as more people join the project and side tasks get mixed in. Within a visual collaboration ecosystem, you can quickly revisit the first team brainstorms and ideation sessions. All of your user research, notes, and ideas are easily accessible and contextualized within the same visual platform. Business leaders can then enter planning meetings with a renewed understanding of the impact behind each project and priority deliverables for each sprint.
5.Bridge silos to drive agility and efficiency.
Overly complicated systems can result in taller and taller silos. When teams reject complexity in favor of clear, simple visuals, they build bridges between these silos and create new pathways of communication. Visuals provide teams with the big picture and allow leaders to clearly demonstrate how departments, initiatives, and procedures are connected. Each team member’s work can be traced back to larger organizational goals so everyone, from managers to individual contributors, has the insight needed to assign priority to associated tasks and projects. Business leaders can maximize the speed of innovation when they have a clear, visualized roadmap backed by teams with access to all the materials they need to focus, collaborate, and execute.
Businesses need to cut through the current complexity to help teams more easily and clearly pinpoint what really matters and make meaningful changes within the organization. They need to find ways to simplify without becoming simplistic, and visuals are the key to making that happen. As leaders leverage the power of visuals to distil complexity into clear understanding, teams can more easily collaborate, innovate and move the business forward.
The author is the cofounder & CEO of Lucid.