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Engineering: Simplicity in Complexity

By Seb Klabes, 16/1/2017

I recently came across the article from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). I believe the article does a good job in identifying twelve megatrends for future organizations. I liked in particular the formulation of "Simplicity in Complexity..."

As stated in the article: "...once organizations grow, their structure becomes increasingly complex. New silos develop, the number of stakeholders involved in decision making increases, and interdependencies between functions multiply." - If you are working in a large organization, this is a statement that you will easily relate to.

If an organization develops and manufactures complex technical systems, they need specialist complex inter-disciplinary engineering competences. The manpower of such an engineering organization encompasses easily the size of a nicely manageable group of people. The necessary formation of teams leads to the formation of specialized entities. Avoid the temptation to form over-specialized teams. There are certain skills that everyone in the engineering organization needs to master: e.g.: managing requirements, handling configuration items. These skills must be spread over the whole engineering organization and must not be put into a dedicated silo.

My point is: Do not create a separate team for integral roles such as requirement managers, configuration managers, etc. These roles must be highly interwoven with the design team. Rather develop the engineering organization so that each specialized engineer can take such an integral role. If and only if everyone has at least a basic understanding of the integral roles, your engineering organization will confidently cope with inevitable change, ambiguity and drawbacks.

To take over an integral role, Systems Engineering knowledge is indispensable. Have a look on the available resources on the web and consider training your team on these methodologies. It will help your engineering organization in jointly creating a consistent baseline and thus assuring customer satisfaction.

In summary:

Simplicity is the key in mastering complexity. Thus, do not split your engineering, if not utterly necessary and do not split integral functions like requirements or configuration management. The split creates unnecessary interfaces and potential tensions between your engineering teams. Rather train your engineering organization in systems engineering methodologies and introduce simplicity into your engineering organization.

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