Fighting complexity

The growing complexity associated with technology solutions is a major challenge in the financial services industry and one that is difficult to measure and address.

When it comes to designing great solutions, quite often less is more.

We have seen a growing focus on simple design and usability for the things that we touch and use but when it comes to those things that we can’t see it is hard to advocate for simplicity and graceful design — if it can’t be seen or quantified people generally don’t want to see time and money invested in it (and this makes sense). Saying that one design is simply “better” or more aligned with “best practice” is also a subjective and murky area.

I know a great design when I see it. I can tell when effort has been put into rationalizing unnecessary components, and when someone simply ran out of time when designing other aspects of the solution. The challenge lies in how to communicate the value of this effort and I believe that one powerful outcome of quality solution design is complexity reduction.

A quality solution is one that leaves behind a better environment than what it began with — a less complex environment.

When it comes to creating new solutions within the financial services space quite often the process goes like this:

Basically, imagine a truck backing up and adding more boxes to an already full warehouse of packages.  This is the crux of the complexity problem — a business culture that rewards incrementalism rather than designing a solution that transforms and removes legacy components.  Part of tackling the complexity challenge involves introducing new thinking into the solution process.

Here is an example of how the process could be:


What are the signs of incremental complexity?  There are a few, here are some examples that I’ve seen:

  • Estimates that seem disproportionately high compared to the amount of change
  • Failed business cases because of the above
  • Business capabilities and lost revenues that are not realized due to the above
  • Growing IT teams and costs due to the amount of expertise required to understand, manage and operate
  • Long outages
  • Evasive performance challenges

The first step towards addressing complexity is acknowledging that this is a concern and something that should be considered when projects are conceived, when major decisions are faced and when performance is assessed.

I like simplicity, just enough functionality and not an ounce more.  When it comes to designing financial services solutions, simple is better.

4 Responses to Fighting complexity

  1. Excellent blog, Kris. Simplicity, just enough functionality and clean interfaces — ingredients of great solutions.

  2. Simplicity is often not chosen because not all stakeholders are motivated by simplicity–like when lingering legacy functionality becomes functional requirements.

    Ben Winegarden

  3. hi Kris, simple but excellent blog. agree with Ben’s views as well because not all stakeholders are motivated when some of the current business needs are not fitting in to legacy. it will be interesting to hear from you, at what stage and who should put a control to this? realistic requirements? realistic solutions? who can tell what is practically possible?

  4. Kris…very very well articulated.

    This is so much pragmatic and amazingly straightforward path to an excellent solutioning – esp. in core banking space where complexity is still thriving in spite of its heavy track records of failure.

    This principal certainly sits at the CORE of the Core banking / financial services solutions business.

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