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Simply Effective: How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done Hardcover – December 8, 2009
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Peter Drucker said that "Working on the right things is what makes knowledge work effective."
I don't know if those quotes inspired Ron Ashkenas, the author of Simply Effective, but they could have. If you're looking for ways to understand unnecessary complexity in your business and root it out, you should read this book.
The key to the value of this book is clearly stated in the Preface: The author says that the tools he refers to will probably be familiar to you. Then he says this:
"My intent is not to rehash these tools, but rather to put them in the context of how they can be used either singly or in combination to tackle different aspects of complexity--or to be woven together into a more comprehensive strategy."
What makes this a great book is the simple structure. It provides a lens you can use to spot and analyze needless or destructive complexity. And it provides guidance on what to do next.
The book begins with an introductory chapter titled: "Unmasking organizational complexity." Ashkenas says something that many of us have thought: "much of the day-to-day complexity that bogs down our ability to get results is self-inflicted." Pogo could not have said it better.
The introductory chapter describes how we create complexity without ever meaning to do so. It also describes the competitive advantage available to companies who can cauterize the complexity that degrades performance.
Ashkenas identifies four causes of complexity. Each one gets its own chapter. Each chapter describes particular causes of complexity and then discusses ways to increase simplicity.Read more ›
He identifies 4 major causes of complexity:
1. Structural Mitosis - constant change in the way organizations are structured
2. Management Behaviour - which wastes time and which confuses the issues
3. Product & Service Proliferation - which makes focusing and thus managing the whole ever more difficult
4. Process Evolution - as businesses use new and varying approaches to solve problems - processes need streamlining
By his own admission, Ashkenas does not set out to create lots of new tools. Rather, he is focused on ensuring that we have the context for simplicity clearly understood so that we start to create effective response strategies - and then applying the most proven approaches to help get results. The book is liberally laced with good case studies, from GE, Conagra, Cisco, J&J and others. And at the end of each chapter there is a helpful checklist of actions that can be taken.
For example, in the chapter on "Product and Service Proliferation", Ashkenas encourages us to use effective Portfolio Analysis to identify where to focus, rationalise our brand SKU's, and use Customer Design Partnering to be sure we are meeting the most important needs. And in "Streamlining Processes", Ashkenas urges us to use Best Practice, Process Mapping (to make explicit what is implicit or taken for granted in an organization) and, of course, proven techniques such as Six Sigma and Lean.Read more ›
Others have their reasons for praising this book. Here are three of mine. First, Ashkenas follows Einstein's admonition (quoted in the title of this review) by explaining how to complete the immensely difficult transition to what Oliver Wendell Holmes once characterized as "the other side of complexity." For example, he provides Assessment 1-1 (Pages 21-25) so that his reader can complete a self-audit by which to determine the major sources of complexity in her or his organization. He also identifies the four sources of complexity (i.e. structure, products, processes, and management behavior) and the major complexity-traps and explains how to avoid or escape from them.
I also admire how skillfully Ashkenas inserts statements throughout his narrative from those who have extensive first-hand experience with simplicity initiatives. For example, here is what a former vice chairman of GE, Floyd Trotter, has to say about the thought process that can be built into an entire culture. "We teach managers that they need to start with the `answer,' which is that their business needs double-digit earnings improvement every quarter and every year.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
There are some real pearls of wisdom for change efforts and the stories, tips, and advice the author provides is invaluable. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Robert Kirk
Great writing. Down to Earth. Examples are essential and well presented and justified.Published 15 months ago by Amazon Customer
As it should be, this book on simplicity is straightforward. Ron Ashkenas, a teacher at heart, mixes informative bits of the history of organizational management with incisive... Read morePublished on December 16, 2010 by Rolf Dobelli
Rather than a complex model to understand complexity, the author has brought the issue into the personal realm: what do I do - as a leader and a follower - that contributes to... Read morePublished on March 25, 2010 by Steve SFO