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Finding and reducing needless complexity

Eric G. Olson (Consultant based in Downey, California, USA.)
Sara J. Moulton Reger (Transformation Program Executive at IBM)
David S. Singer (An IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 2 February 2010




The purpose of this paper is to present a structure for identifying complexity that is not needed in an enterprise, and describe a methodology for eliminating it. Whether it is process complexity, product complexity, or organizational complexity, investments in managing higher levels of complexity often offer businesses significant value by enabling them to offer more and better products and services to a broader range of customers. However, along with higher levels of complexity has come an increased requirement to distinguish between that complexity which is needed and that which is needless.


This paper first presents a structure for categorizing different kinds of complexity, with a detailed focus on needless complexity that is categorized into four types. Next, specific factors are developed that can be used to identify needless complexity in an organization. Finally, a methodology is presented that organizations can utilize in order to eliminate needless complexity.


Needless complexity can be created where it never should have existed in the first place, and other times needless complexity exists as an historical relic left over from a time when it actually was needed. Using a structured approach, needless complexity can be identified and eliminated to yield significant business benefits.


This paper provides a framework for differentiating needless complexity from needed complexity, and assessing the landscape of needless complexity in an organization. It also provides an approach for identifying opportunities to reduce needless complexity using the needless complexity diagnostic.



Olson, E.G., Moulton Reger, S.J. and Singer, D.S. (2010), "Finding and reducing needless complexity", On the Horizon, Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 53-61.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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