Posted on August 12, 2013 by

Bringing order to complexity

Design is all around us.  The products that catch our eye are driven by how they look and also how they make us feel, the complexity is hidden away from us as consumers. We are presented with something that is so simple that we almost forget how hard it must have been to define this level of simplicity.

“There is a profound enduring beauty in simplicity, in clarity, in efficiency”

The organisations that harness this simplistic approach are able to deliver products which seem to have always been in our lives and as users we are just able to use them, even if we have never used them before.

I always wonder why this same approach cannot transcend to business process and business design.

Why do we seem to make organisations so complex?

It is so easy to create many versions of a process but creating a single process that is elegant and just works, which caters for all scenarios, takes time.

Is it the time that causes us to take the easy route?

How can design help us and how can we take the organisation with us on this journey?

Human Centred Design

Human-centered design expressly involves the investigation of social problems, analysis of knowledge, engagement of users, and prototyping or iteration of solutions.  At the heart is a focus on actual users, achieved via interviews, observation, and good old-fashioned listening

The key part of the process is people.

It is the people aspects which need to be understood but also over come when trying to achieve a level of sophistication and elegance.

For those of you like me, that have probably spent the first part of your career being akin to captain america,  you’ve tried learning  and also tried to solve problems single handed whilst then also trying to achieve a ‘lead by example’ ethos.  As we enter a new age of complexity this type of approach changes and we now have to enable not only our teams but also bring the organisation with us on the journey.


Design helps us focus on the needs of people but also empathise with their concerns and almost teaches us to focus on the core skills which are sometimes forgotten, listening and communication.

However design alone will not completely solve the simplification process, design is much more than its look and feel.

“Design is much more than how it looks, its the whole thing, the way somethings works, on so many different levels”

Applying the design process with traditional business process and business design enables us to take a holistic approach to business change.

So how can we achieve this?

Focus on business questions

Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 23.20.39

As architects and designers our customer base in most organisations, is the end user.  These are the people who hold all the knowledge which we need to enable us to create the new designs we have in mind.

Here lies the challenge.

In most cases people fear change and when someone comes along with some grand idea to change a process or even improve it, it can be pushed back due to these fears.

Clearly we need to do something different.

What if instead of saying i am here to improve your process, tell me how it works, what if we said what are your pain points and what would you do differently if you had the chance?

Make it feel like it was their idea

If we were dealing with a senior person, we could say what are the things that keep you awake at night? What top five business questions are you struggling to answer:

  • How are my business capabilities performing?
  • Which customers took which of my offerings?
  • Am i investing in the right programmes?
  • How do we simplify our processes?
  • Am i meeting my regulatory requirements?

Notice no mention of business architecture or process re-engineering.  We have been able to remove any fear but also technical terms.  The next question is how would you like to see the content presented to you i.e. lists of information, diagrams or a document?

Although the change is new it is important to make it instantly familiar to all users

Using a design approach we are able to illustrate the question from all perspectives in a way all our users understand.


Holistic thinking and multiple perspective integrated models enables us to understand the true end to end

How do we manage process variation though you may ask? We have countless rules and controls which result in local or even client variation.

Modelling techniques

One of the most ever changing aspect in any business process are the business rules or decisions.  To ensure we can be adaptive but also achieve the simplified approach we are striving for, we need to separate the two.

A business process is traditionally sequential where as rules tend to be procedural by nature

Lets take a look at an example of rules which have been modelled:

Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 16.41.21

The diagram is fairly clear and straight forward and has been modelled well.  However what if we changed one of those rules? The reality is we need to remodel the whole diagram.  The second issue is we are modelling the rules, which means we could end up with endless levels of process.

The key is to capture the rules and maintain them separately but then relate them to the aspects of the process.

Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 16.41.05

The diagram above is exactly the same process but the rules are now associated to the activities and can now be maintained but also reused in other processes too.

The “so what” moment

Simplicity takes time, for every yes there is likely to be hundreds of no’s. It is crucial that we bring the organisation with us and make our users feel like they are driving the design process.

Combining design with architecture allows us to consider the needs of people, but also produce designs which manage variation which are then illustrated back to users in ways which they are familiar.

That is a significant win but as always there are some other benefits worth mentioning:

  • Empathy: change effects people’s lives, a human centred approach enables us to consider the needs and feelings of people when approaching a design problem.
  • User Ideas: make the whole change feel like the users idea.  This will empower the user but also ensures the new change will be accepted and used.
  • Journey: focusing on the needs of people and making them feel part of the process ensures we bring users with us on the  change journey.
  • Collaboration: architects are no longer seen as ivory tower.  Architects will collaborate with users to deliver designs which meet their needs, but also align to the various business design standards.
  • End to end: when making any change it is important to understand if either upstream or downstream processes are impacted and can cope with the change.  A multiple perspective approach, with defined measures, enables us to apply a holistic approach to any process or organisation change.
  • Process management: separating rules from process enables users to take ownership of the process but also manage changes due to the reduction of process levels.
  • Variation reduction: we are able to create a single process which is able to manage variation due to the separation of business rules from process.
  • Enable the organisation: working closer with the wider organisation enables us to build trust but also pass on skills to users, which enables us to scale.
  • Business terms: we speak to the business in their terms i.e. no use of the term architecture or process design.
  • Reuse: when separating rules from process we are able to create a rules glossary.  This allows us to access these rules for possible use in other business processes. This reduces duplication and adds to the flexibility of our processes.

Change is something we all fear, through empathy and understanding the needs of people we are able to create designs which meet the needs of users, but at the same time enabling us to bring them on the change journey with us.

Combined with architecture we are able to manage variation and deliver simplified, reusable, and elegant business designs.

This combination offers us a new way of truly seeing the world where listening to, and learning from users informs, and sometimes even trumps our own instincts. This provides a platform for us to become trusted advisors of the business, but at the same time deliver real business value time and time again.


  1. Jonathan Ive: Design Quotes
  2. Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha: Keep It Simple Image
  3. Knowledge Partners International: Activity Flow Images
  4. Museums and the Web 2013: Empathy Map