If it looks too complicated, it is. There’s too much complexity around everything we do in business. It’s pervasive. I’ve written about the ease with which “no” has become the standard answer in the workplace. But complexity goes far beyond.

/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/simple_507612.jpgIf you’re looking for a framework to help Run simple, here are five questions that I ask about every meeting, every project and every initiative.

1. How does this benefit my customer?

Always start here. The concept of “customer” goes beyond external customers. Everyone has a customer somewhere – how is what you’re doing right now actually helping your customer, whoever they are? Chances are, if you’re even remotely struggling to answer the question, you’re probably wasting time.

2. What are we trying to accomplish?

This video about conference calls in real life is spot-on. Meetings for meetings’ sake and endless discussion are akin to “playing office.” What’s the goal? Do we need a decision? Do we need a volunteer? Do we need a leader? Do we need a new idea? Don’t ever get into anything without knowing what you’re trying to get out of it. And remember, you don’t need to form a committee to collaborate.

3. What are the history lessons?

Never go into any serious effort without the benefit of some background. Unless you’re on the cutting edge of scientific research, I’m confident there’s something to be learned from work that’s already been done. Don’t get too tied down in asking everyone or reading everything, but a healthy dose of historical perspective usually helps.

4. Who’s accountable?

How many times have you left a meeting or been part of some initiative with no clear accountabilities? Probably pretty often, I’d guess. Accountability in business is like bread for a sandwich. Without it, you just have a lot of random inputs that never come together and ultimately can’t be consumed.

5. When do you cut bait?

People don’t stay motivated around an idea indefinitely. There has to be progress. There has to be transparency around whether you’re moving the needle. If so, momentum will carry you. If not, don’t be ashamed about admitting it. If the idea is really transformational, people will stay engaged and persevere. If it isn’t, people will respect the courage to admit failure and move on to whatever’s next.

There are better places to waste time than the office.

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16 Comments

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  1. Kunal Pandya

    The drive towards simplicity and transformation into a Cloud Company starts from the top, and as we enter the era of the subscription model, the first point made becomes do or die:

    The Customer must win, 100% focus on the customer. We must embed a customer centric culture into everything we do.

    Great piece that I couldn’t agree more with.

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  2. Ravi Ekambaram

    ‘Keep it simple’ is simplest principle everyone has to apply to avoid complex problems.. 🙂

    And I do completely agree being customer centric since it pays-off the customer in-large and also the business. It’s a win-win situation to both.

    Regards,

    Ravi

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  3. Thomas Siddons

    Bill, thank you for highlighting these five key benchmarks for working more effectively.

    I particularly enjoyed the video about pitfalls during conference calls – I think we’ve all come across those… 😳

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  4. Paulo Cesar de Biasi Vantini

    Hello Dear Mr.Bill,

    Very useful information. Surely, the most complex solution is rarely the best one.

    I´m gonna use those questions especially when I get into projects that are already out of the tracks.

    I think the question about who´s accountable is a critical one since simplicity requires engagement, and when managers do not take their responsibility for setting roles and demand them, things get quite difficult and a lot of time is wasted. I know a lot of developers and functional consultants who not only do their jobs but also do their managers work as well.

    Its good to know that a great company like SAP has a great leader who has the courage of saying that there are better places to waste time than the office. Sounds like “The Creative Leisure” from italian sociologist Domenico de Masi. Its really profitable in all senses for a company to have that philosophy.

    Moreover about simplicity, we´re already in a near future in which all resources are almost available to everyone, so creativity is turning out to be cornerstone.

    Thank you,

    Best Regards.

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  5. John Appleby

    Hey Bill,

    This is my favorite piece of yours so far. I like the the direct and instructive style of leadership.

    And what’s more, I see the results of some of this with some of the people I am working with – the culture of purpose is growing nicely, and is achieving results which I believe will benefit my business. That’s the kind of partnership I want with SAP.

    One area – and you touch on this briefly – that I’m not sure these questions work, is in research and innovation. Here, there can be few or no history lessons, and it can be very tough to know when to cut bait.

    I’ve said a few times in interviews that SAP has enough innovation right now that it could just execute for 5 years and not need to innovate, and still do fantastically. With HANA, the renewal of the core and cloud, execution is everything.

    However sooner or later, research will become important once again, and this takes years to create, or, as you know, billions of dollars to acquire. Do you think you can apply these questions to research, or do you take a different approach?

    John

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  6. Toni Ravelo

    “If the idea is really transformational, people will stay engaged and persevere. If it isn’t, people will respect the courage to admit failure and move on to whatever’s next.

    There are better places to waste time than the office.”

    Couldn’t agree more with this.

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