Please suggest books for review ...

Or Search The Database:
Simply Effective: "How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done"

Author: Ron Ashkenas

Publisher: Harvard Business Press

ISBN: Mick Yates

Summary:This is a good, clear and helpful book, and the action plans suggested will definitely start to clear away the organizational clutter that we all face every day

Simply Effective

ISBN 978 1 4221 8114 0

Ron Ashkenas is the co-author of The Boundaryless Organization and The GE Work-Out - both fascinating reviews of how major Companies make things happen in an increasingly complicated world. In the new book, published December 2009, Ashkenas sets out a set of diagnostics, tools and processes to help us deal with complexity on a day-to-day basis.

He identifies 4 major causes of complexity:

  1. Structural Mitosis - constant change in the way organizations are structured
  2. Management Behaviour - which wastes time and which confuses the issues
  3. Product & Service Proliferation - which makes focusing and thus managing the whole ever more difficult
  4. Process Evolution - as businesses use new and varying approaches to solve problems - processes need streamlining

By his own admission, Ashkenas does not set out to create lots of new tools. Rather, he is focused on ensuring that we have the context for simplicity clearly understood so that we start to create effective response strategies - and then applying the most proven approaches to help get results. The book is liberally laced with good case studies, from GE, Conagra, Cisco, J&J and others. And at the end of each chapter there is a helpful checklist of actions that can be taken.

For example, in the chapter on "Product and Service Proliferation", Ashkenas encourages us to use effective Portfolio Analysis to identify where to focus, rationalise our brand SKU's, and use Customer Design Partnering to be sure we are meeting the most important needs. And in "Streamlining Processes", Ashkenas urges us to use Best Practice, Process Mapping (to make explicit what is implicit or taken for granted in an organization) and, of course, proven techniques such as Six Sigma and Lean. You've also got to smile when you read about "Death by PowerPoint" when he is discussing ineffective Management behaviour.

Stepping back, Ashkenas proposes a "Simple Strategy for Simplicity", in a five step loop.

  • Declare Simplicity a Business Imperative
  • Restructure the work and consequent organization structure to reduce complexity
  • Achieve early results ("quick wins") through process and product simplification
  • Sustain Momentum through clear and constant Communication
  • Repeat over time

This is a good, clear and helpful book, and the action plans suggested will definitely start to clear away the organizational clutter that we all face every day.

If I have a critique it is that Ashkenas could have gone further in two areas. First, to make even more of the power of Customer Insight in driving better business decisions and thus helping to design more effective processes. Using a "customer lens" can really break through some of the old paradigms. I have especially seen this applied in retailing, where getting the entire enterprise focused on and rewarded by customer results can be a breakthrough strategy and a clear focus for operational excellence.

And, secondly, Ashkenas only deals lightly with the emerging knowledge we have on how Social Networks create highly efficient and effective communication vehicles. He is not alone in this, as most writers still follow the "Structure follows Strategy" dictum. Yet network science is beginning to suggest common approaches that can be used independently of the actual purpose of the Enterprise.

Still, that is for future books. For today, I can fully recommend "Simply Effective" as a well-researched, well-written book packed with helpful ideas for action. A quick read, but a useful handbook to have on your desk to dip into as your work progresses.