Simplistic versus Simplified
The (late) Steve Jobs said that if you believed something was ‘simple’ you obviously did not understand it. The challenge, he said, was to thoroughly understand the complexity so that you could then simplify it. His products are testaments to his success — highly sophisticated items of technology with one or two buttons only. Apparently he and a small team spent their evenings for weeks and weeks simplifying the original iPod interface, for example.
Yet in our time-pressured working environments, increasingly there is a desire for the simplistic.
A classic example of this is the approach of locking business case benefits into future operating budgets so as to ‘ensure their realization’. This is simplistic thinking – and clearly illustrates the value-destroying properties of such simplistic thinking.
Locking benefits into future budgets:
- Reduces the value of benefits identified as managers seek to minimize their future exposure by defining "only just enough benefits" to get their business cases approved (not a good start).
- Is irrelevant to the many managers who do not expect to be in the same position by the time the benefits are being expected (not a behaviour changing solution).
- Fails to recognize reality – that during the course of the project and beyond, the financial value of benefits can legitimately change significantly due to factors outside the project and governance teams’ control – eg interest rate changes. Any increase or decrease in value is ignored by this simplistic approach.
- Doesn’t even measure benefits realization - only budget achievement. If other events have allowed the adjusted budget figure to be met, the benefits from the project may not be realized at all as they are no longer needed (to make budget) or measured (as benefits).
And we could go on. But this example illustrates the dangers of simplistic thinking.
Simplified thinking, however, is quite different.
If you want to measure benefits you need to measure the inputs – the ‘stepping stones’ along the way to full benefits realization.
You need to measure the progressive delivery of the:
- Project outcomes — does the project’s delivered outcomes enable the realization of the benefits?
- Business outcomes — have the planned business outcomes been realized in full?
- Associated benefits — have the available benefits associated with each outcome been realized in full?
- And then their value — has all of the available value been ‘banked’?
- While tracking any changes to the value drivers — can we account for any variation in the final value realized vis-à-vis that expected?
This ‘input’ approach to benefits realization management and measurement is simple to set up, embeds benefits realization into projects and project reporting, and actually increases the value of benefits realized. Their value is tracked and measured independently of any other events or financial changes so you know exactly what the project has and has not delivered.
When people just ask, “Just tell me what to do,” they are looking for simplistic answers. They don’t want to ‘think’ – they just want to ‘do’. In these cases you can be assured that their outcomes will be overly simple, poor and compromised.
What people should ask for is “Tell me how to think about this. How should I approach it? How do I define what I’m trying to achieve?”
When you then provide them with simplified but highly effective tools and techniques, you’re on your way to a highly successful result.
Explore the dangers of simplistic accounting further
Or Discover how benefits measurement can be simple