Beware IT's Villain: The 'Complexifier'

Individuals who focus on complicating things can derail IT projects. Here's what to watch out for and how to deflect their negative effect.

Azmi Jafarey

January 20, 2015

9 Min Read
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One of the biggest technical threats to organizations today is the overwhelming layer of complexity facing their IT environments. While a combination of business demands, point products, and regulatory issues have conspired to complicate corporate operations, there is another villain to consider. I call this person the “complexifier” -- able to wreak havoc in almost any situation.

We all deal with this type and know who they are, because their adverse effects linger on long after they are gone. Complexifiers never saw a report they didn’t want three variations of or attend a meeting where they didn’t want to double the amount of time they held the team captive. If you are serious about simplifying your IT environment, you need to identify and reign in these difficult individuals in your organization before they overwhelm productivity.   

Complexifiers come in many forms. Early recognition of their personality characteristics is critical to managing them. Here's what to watch out for:

Kickoff. When you are almost done with gathering the business requirements for a project and are about ready for the kickoff, those inclined to complexity stall the initiation. Do you have someone who wants to take you back to square one, insisting on automating edge cases that will never happen in practice and add layers of workflow that will explode your timeline and sap your resources?

Reports. Complexifiers love reports. They can convert any one page report or dashboard into War and Peace, insisting on pages of drill-down for “necessary details.” They believe going back to the beginning of everything is necessary to really understand how the business is trending over time.

Meetings. These types also thrive on taking a half-hour meeting and extending it by a few hours, so that all eyes glaze over, and things understood in the first fifteen minutes are no longer comprehensible. They pontificate when “yes” or “no” answers would suffice. They tout irrelevant facts as essential and avoid all decisions, while shifting the focus to scheduling the next meeting to continue the discussion.

Projects. Does a member of your team love to complicate even the simplest of things, such as the project name? Complexifiers like to coin obscure titles for initiatives and projects and then refer to them by their acronyms, like “next-gen partition workflow procurement and authorization” or NPWP&A. These complex terms guarantee that no late-comer can understand how or why this applies, or what it means.

Developers. Finally, watch out for any developers who are also bent on increasing complexity. They are in a class by themselves. They can code in 70 lines what everyone else can accomplish in 10.

Now that you have identified your complexity producers, what do you do with them and how do you ensure that you can still manage the project effectively? Here are the three ways to cancel out their negative effects:

  1. Bring in simplifiers. Yes, these anti-chaos, anti-complexity heroes and heroines exist. Put them on your teams and empower them to talk, defend simplicity, and deflect complexity by posing questions such as “… but what is the real problem we are trying to solve?”

  2. Use data to your advantage. Point to committed targets, deadlines, return on investments, and surveys that support your argument. Preserve what is doable and prevent entropy.

  3. Give complexifiers something to do. Pick something that takes a lot of time, is an independent project, and is least relevant to the task at hand. Excel spreadsheets with years of data to comb through are good options.

The results of important projects are relying on your ability to defeat individuals who increase complexity. Hopefully these tips will arm you against their negative effects. May the simplifiers win!

About the Author(s)

Azmi Jafarey

CIO and SVP of Technology Architecture at IntralinksAzmi Jafarey is CIO and SVP of Technology Architecture at Intralinks. Intralinks helps enterprises extend business processes and high value content across traditional organizational, corporate and geographical boundaries. This is through a cloud-based content collaboration network where sensitive information can move freely around the globe while maintaining security and compliance. Previously, Azmi was CIO at Ipswitch for nine years, responsible for operations, infrastructure, business applications and data analytics. Before joining Ipswitch, Jafarey held positions as vice president of IT and tech services at Vertical Communications, Inc. Prior to that he was with Solutia and Monsanto, where he managed global R&D Computing and information services as well as systems groups. Jafarey holds an MS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts. In 2013, he was named CIO of the Year by the Boston Business Journal.

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