“Complexity: the ‘silent killer’ of modern business,” Chris Zook and James Allen
I came across an article in The Economist recently, "Simplify and Repeat." The article, based on the book Repeatability by Chris Zook and James Allen, talks about one of the elements of successful companies, an obssession with simplicity. A few of the examples cited are Lego, IKEA, McDonald’s and Nike. The authors highlight three virtues of success:
- A distinctive core business
- A simple business model
- Application of the model to new opportunities
I was intrigued about how the lesson of simplicity could be applied to Marketing Analytics. In the world of analytics, we tend to deal with complex datasets and analyses. During the discovery phase, our objective is to understand how tables and variables within tables are related to one another. We may be working with millions of records and hundreds of variables across different tables. During the analysis phase, we do extensive profiling to help us explore and visualize the data. As we work through the stages of a project we have likely created many different tables and views. Our final product for our clients might be a summary presentation and/or a detailed report with an appendix full of tables and charts.
Either of these outputs can be delivered in a format across the spectrum from simple to complex. Part of our expertise is in knowing what level of output is best suited for a particular project and audience. For example, a product manager tends to want more detail that her vice president. Even so, we are often at the crossroads of proving how complex a project is versus showing the output in the simplest and cleanest form.
In an effort to integrate the lessons of "Simplify and Repeat," here are 5 considerations for your next project.
- Select the right analytical tools given the business application. We occassionally find ourselves in a situation in which we create a very complex solution where a simple solution would suffice. It’s worth exploring several options across the complexity spectrum - including a cost-benefit analysis - to be sure that the solution fits the problem at hand. There’s little benefit in continuing to tweak an acquisition model if there are unresolved issues with the lead-routing and sales conversion process.
- When developing and delivering output, it’s better to err on the side of simplicity. Although we often can’t help but want to share really interesting details, providing too much information may significantly slow down or even shut down communications.
- Ask a peer to look at your output with a fresh set of eyes. When we’re too close to the analysis, we make a lot of assumptions and may miss the obvious.
- When you find something that works, don’t be afraid to keep using it. Shiny and new is not always better.
- If you are making changes to existing reports, consider soliciting input on how the reports are currently being used. Over the course of time, some older elements may be ignored in favor of newer additions. We often find it’s easier to just keep adding without deleting anything, ignoring the growing complexity.
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