- "The most pressing problem of the organization is complexity. Complexity is the primary responsibility of the enterprise architect." (Roger Sessions, Controlling Complexity in Enterprise Architecture pdf June 2007)
- "Enterprises are instances of complex adaptive systems having many interacting subcomponents whose interactions yield complex behaviors. Enterprise Architecture is a way of understanding and managing such complexity." (Beryl Bellman Managing Organizational Complexity pdf FEAC Oct 2009)
Indeed, I'm sure I've said things like this myself. But if complexity is a problem, whose problem is it? I am not seeing a huge rush of businessmen hiring enterprise architects just to deal with The Complexity Problem. Usually they have much more practical problems that they want addressing.
Complexity is a problem amplifier
So here's the thing. Apart from architects, people generally don't see complexity as their problem. What they do often acknowledge, however, is that complexity makes their problems worse. Furthermore, complexity may be one of the reasons they can't solve their problems for themselves. So complexity is a relevant factor, it's just not the problem itself.
Complexity as a lifestyle choice
And where does the complexity come from? Ironically, complexity is often created by failed attempts to reduce or eliminate complexity. In a post about the AntiFragile Enterprise (Jan 2013), Alan Hakami warns against "a tendency to build over-governed solutions that try to 'manage' complexity or uncertainty".
And where is the motivation to eliminate complexity? Suppose you go to the doctor with a headache, and the doctor says the reason you keep getting these headaches is you don't get enough fresh air and exercise. The pills just give you a temporary relief from the symptoms. You know she's right, but somehow you can't manage to get up early enough to go for a run before work. So you continue to get the headaches and you continue to need the pills. Indeed, if the pills work, you may start to exercise even less than you did before.
According to this analogy, an organization chooses the level of complexity it is comfortable with, and may well resist attempts to shift to a higher or lower level.
Complexity as a smokescreen
In my post on Devious Management and Investment Risk (January 2004), I suggested that complexity can sometimes be a deliberate tactic to conceal something, and therefore serves as a clue that something is being concealed. For example, a tangle of complicated transactions. Obviously those responsible for the concealment will resist any attempt to strip away this kind of complexity. So there is no point in attacking the complexity directly, you need to identify what is behind it.
Complexity is an opportunity amplifier
If one organization is better at handling complexity than its competitors, as a consequence of superior agility and/or intelligence, then it can use complexity as a weapon. And many organizations use this weapon against customers or regulators. As @JackGavigan says, complexity is only a problem for those who lack the brain power to deal with and exploit it.
So that gives the enterprise architect a rather different perspective on complexity, doesn't it?
Related posts: Complexity-Based Pricing (June 2008), On the Causes of Business Complexity (October 2012)
Updated 27 June 2020