Don’t Let Complexity Kill Your Value Proposition

I was working with a senior leader of a Fortune 100 company last week.  He was nervous about an upcoming product launch, one that had gotten countless hours of development and a treasure full of capital. Product developers were beaming and corporate expectations were through the roof.

His concern: the product would be dead on arrival because it was too complex for core customers to understand, and, at a more basic level, it was too complicated for even the company’s own salespeople to grasp and explain.

While the basic premise underlying the product was brilliant, the concept had been overtaken by feature creep — a proliferation of bells, whistles, bed knobs and broomsticks. Value had been eclipsed by complexity. Perfect had become the enemy of good.

The chart above, by Marc Effron, illustrates a simple, powerful business principle: the value/complexity curve. Effron uses it to explain why so many HR programs and systems are never implemented by an organization’s managers. Simply put, most corporate programs are too complicated for the average manager to put into use (Effron’s primary focus is on talent management systems, but the point travels well across all HR programs, and across nearly any internally driven corporate improvement program). The reality is that no program or product has any value unless it is implemented, and the tragedy is that few managers have the time and bandwidth to implement most programs, however well-intentioned, because the programs are over-thought and over-designed.

As Effron notes:

Our belief is that implementation is everything — if we simply get talent management practices implemented, they are going to deliver the results that you’re looking for.  And, if we can prove to managers that the practices will add more value to their life than more complexity, they are much more likely to use them.

His point reminds me of a strategy truism:  A B-level strategy, effectively implemented, is infinitely more valuable than an A-level strategy that is poorly or sporadically implemented.

The value-compexity curve applies in spades to the startup process, and emphasizes the value of getting a minimum viable product in your customer’s hands.

Simple works, mainly because it’s more likely to actually happen. Everything beyond that is called improvement.


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