Complex Problems, a rant

Inevitably you will sit in on a meeting and hear someone say “We need to find the root cause of this complex problem.”

If you are me, you possibly think one of two things:

  1. Complex problems don’t have root causes. In fact, they don’t even have clear cause-effect paths
  2. That’s not complex. It’s complicated.

Occasionally, I think both.

In my post “The difference between complex and complicated” I went into detail on the differences between the two.

Does it matter? Mostly not, but sometimes very much so. The approach you bring to the two can be very different, and if you think you are tackling the wrong type of problem you could spend some time banging against a wall.

For an example:

  • Wanting to reduce cycle time for release of product is a complicated problem. You can reduce the problems and solve for them (e.g. tackle deviation cycle time, specific areas of deviations, processing in the lab, capacity in the value stream, etc)
  • Ensuring a robust and resilient supply chain is a complex problem. This problem is multifunctional and the system is open.

It is for this reason I continue to use Art Smalley’s Four Types of Problems. This gives a nice setup of language for talking about problems in the organization.

We definitely need a School-House-Rock style song for this, or good rap.

2 thoughts on “Complex Problems, a rant

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