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Four Steps to Remove Complexity From Construction


By Ivan Seselj, Construction Executive

Complexity is bad for business. While construction executives may disagree with each other about a lot of things, complexity on the job is perhaps the one issue everyone can agree hurts their businesses. Complexity curbs innovation, hampers customer relationships, slows job completion and ultimately inhibits growth.

Complexity also has a detrimental effect on construction teams. Faced with complexity on the job, construction workers tend to retreat into silos, focusing solely on trying to get their specific jobs done rather than seeing the bigger picture. All of this eats away at any spirit of collaboration and impacts the ability to share ideas and innovations across work teams.

If there is any good news in all of this, it’s that construction companies are not alone. According to a recent survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 86 percent of responding companies complained that their business processes and resultant decision-making had become so complex that it was hindering their ability to grow. And while half of the companies participating in the survey said they had taken steps to manage complexity in their business, a quarter of them admitted those efforts had completely failed.

The odds of removing business complexity, not simply coping with it, are not good. In fact, some level of business complexity is perhaps inevitable in today’s interconnected, technology-enabled world. Given that, what options are left for construction executives, particularly in the face of rapidly changing customer demands and shifting workplace trends?


To fight complexity, construction executives need to start by acknowledging the impact complexity is having on their business. Recognizing that complexity is bad for business makes it easier for executives to get the rest of their team focused on the importance of simplification.

While recognizing that complexity is a problem may be the first step, what should construction executives do next to actually manage complexity? Taking a cue from the Harvard Business Review survey, nearly 70 percent of respondents ranked the flexibility and agility to change business processes as needed as the most important factor in managing complexity. That makes sense when you consider many companies’ propensity to make relatively simple things, such as requesting a password change or ordering equipment, overly complex.

Construction companies can start to remove complexity by simplifying processes and making them work for—instead of against—their teams. There are four specific steps construction executives should take to remove complexity.

  1. Use a process platform as a single point of truth for process information.
    Construction executives should create a collaboration point and platform for “how we do things here.” Effectively capturing the critical process know-how of the company is the key first step toward exposing the level of unnecessary complexity that exists.
  2. Make process knowledge simple for teams to use.
    Process information needs to be engaging, user-friendly and useful. If the company’s process guidance isn’t easy to use, it needs to be changed. Construction executives should also consider the needs of each of their business teams when deciding on the best format to use in presenting process flows. Keep it simple and drill down to more detail only when needed. If the processes are easy to understand and easy to use, work teams will inevitably embrace process knowledge as an enabler of change within the company.
  3. Assign accountable owners to all business processes.
    A healthy process improvement culture depends on empowered process owners who are willing to step up and take responsibility. If work teams don’t feel that they own their processes, their ability and belief that they have a right to change processes in order to reduce complexity will be limited.
  4. Develop a culture where process owners have the authority and mandate to simplify their processes.
    Process owners need to know that they have the right to try (and sometimes fail) in their efforts to improve and innovate. This sort of message can only flow from the top, from the company’s leadership and the chief process officer, through its process champions to the on-the-job process owners.

There are no shortcuts to eliminating complexity. But ignoring the problem or failing to be intentional about keeping the construction business simple will inevitably lead to things getting out of hand.

Construction executives must be intentional when it comes to complexity. By investing in simplifying business processes and process communication, construction executives can empower their teams to drive change, simplify their work and find better, faster ways of doing things.

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