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23 August 2010 | Juan Jimenez Blog
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Hiding Behind Complexity: The Excusist Culture
This week Juan looks at how a process that appears to be complex ceases to be so when the complexity is separated into simple components...

Over the last few months I have been watching an interesting phenomenon in the business networking scene. I thought this particular undesirable aspect of our industry was in decline, but it appears to be making one of those comebacks usually reserved for mediocre politicians who forget there are none but public servants.

I call it “Excusitis.” It’s a nasty habit that some IT people appear to find themselves unable to let go, similar to smoking, spitting in public and refusing to flush the toilet.

It goes something like this. John Doe comments about X as a process issue in an IT department. Frank Doe Y proposes a solution on the basis of best practice and the “adopt and adapt” methodology. John comments that such solutions are simplistic and do not reflect the “complexity of IT.” Frank responds that complexity is composed of simplicity. John attacks Frank as a “literalist,” and says he could not possibly understand the issue, ignoring the fact that Frank actually has much more experience in IT than John. John is soon joined by several other like-minded people who try to build a wall of solidarity with John, but in fact end up looking like fools. The thread dies out, but the excusists waste no time in finding another thread to pollute, and the whole sordid affair is replayed from square one.

It used to be that this kind of behavior played itself out in companies with insecure IT departments whose staff preyed on the inability of the organization to find a way to replace them without losing what little value IT provided. Imagine how the management of organizations felt about this. Do you think maybe this explained why the first chance the business saw to outsource these fools, they went out the door? Of course, there were consequences to this sort of rash action, but trust me when I tell you that owners and directors of companies facing this situation would have given anything to free themselves from the excusists. And sometimes they did.

These days organizations have innumerable options. The desire to rid themselves of these lead weights has become so strong that the marketing departments of third-party service companies have been able to successfully introduce bait such as “knowledge process outsourcing” and “cloud computing” with complete impunity and without having to worry too much about explaining the concept –or the risks involved. The fish take the bait without so much as a second thought. “Shiny, shiny! Pretty, pretty!” mutter the masses.

Divide and Conquer. “Divide et impera.” Some attribute the phrase to Philip II, king of Macedon (382-336 BC), describing his policy toward the Greek city-states. Others say it was first uttered by Julius Caesar. Regardless, it is the cure for excusitis. The simple, unimpeachable truth is that anything that seems complex ceases to be so when the complexity is separated into discrete, simple components.

How does a simple, effective and efficient process become complex, unmanageable, bureaucratic and inefficient? Easy… add misguided (or in some rare cases malicious) simplicity and pile it on until the result is unrecognizable. All that has to be done to perpetuate the ineffectiveness and inefficiency is to claim that anyone examining the process who is deemed not qualified to understand it by the vested interests of the excusists is therefore a literalist who must be shunned, lest he shed light on the truth.

This one is not meant to get you to think. This one is meant to get you to act. You now know how to defeat excusitis. Go forth and seek the simplicity to uncover the root cause of lack of satisfaction, then reassemble and execute.

Repeat as necessary.

Feedback on my blog entries is always welcome!

Juan Jimenez Email to a colleague | Add to MY ITP

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