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Posted by Tim Bryce on September 28, 2015


– It’s really not difficult as long as we use a little common sense.

To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

In a recent Information Technology discussion group I am involved with, someone posed the question, “What is complexity?” I was surprised by the question as I thought it was understood what complexity was all about. Evidently not. The person posing the question was primarily concerned with complexity in system design, but I think it goes beyond systems, to all facets of business, be it related to products or services.

Complexity deals with the number of variables a human can successfully juggle at one time. Each of us possess an intellectual capacity to multitask, but there are mental limitations for all of us. It is like a juggler who takes on one too many balls which forces him to drop the lot. Some people can juggle more objects than others, but we all have limitations.

There are three variables in juggling complexity:

1. The volume of components in a product or service. For example, the number of parts in a product, the number of information resources in a system or program, or the number of customers to serve, employees, or vendors. For example, in an information system there are approximately 2,000 components to manage, and approximately 100 in a single program, which is still significant.

2. The characteristics of each component has to be defined. For example, height, length, width, weight, color, etc. Different components, different types of characteristics, e.g.; how we define the characteristics of a girder of steel is different than the characteristics of an employee, or a data element.

3. The number of relationships to other components. For example, how a wheel is related to an axle, how a worker is used on various projects, or how the data element, “Customer Number,” relates to records, files, programs and other system components. The problem is compounded when parts are standardized for use in multiple products, as General Motors did years ago in standardizing engine parts across their product line.

Based on these three variables, the human being must manage hundreds, if not thousands of variables in a work assignment. In an average information system design, there are approximately 50,000 variables to manage, and for a single program, there are about 2,000 variables. Workers are selected for assignment, in part, based on the number of variables they can juggle at one time.

The next obvious question becomes how to manage all of these variables. If we’re lucky, a person will use a reliable method of documentation to record them, such as blueprints in architecture and engineering, ledgers in accounting, or a “bill of materials” for a product. A bill of materials is a schematic depicting the parts in a product, how they relate to each other, and the characteristics of each component. Anyone who has a product warranty book for home appliances or major garden tools can find such a schematic, it is a common and effective technique for managing complexity. This concept is so effective, it was used as the basis for developing the data dictionary and Data Base Management System (DBMS) as used in application development work. However, the discipline to share and reuse components in the systems world, as logical as it may sound, is still the exception as opposed to the rule. Consequently, it is common to find considerable redundancy in system and data components, e.g; data elements, records, files, programs, business processes, etc. Consider this, it is highly likely there are multiple interpretations of “Customer Number” in a single company, as is “Product Number,” “Part Number,” the calculation of “Total Sales,” etc. Such redundancy complicates system integration thereby adding to the complexity problem.

The final problem is assembling the right parts to form the right products. This explains the rationale for such things as assembly lines and methodologies which define “Who” is to do “What,” “When,” “Where,” “Why” and “How” (the 5W’s + H). Such assembly lines/methodologies are devised by Industrial Engineers who are charged with assembling products in the most expeditious way possible.

There is actually nothing magical in managing complexity. It is just a matter of admitting our limitations and embracing a standard approach for documenting components, their characteristics, and interrelationships. The biggest danger is when we try to manage all of the variables in our head which, unfortunately, is how many programmers work today. Unfortunately, this results in considerable redundancy, lack of system integration, thereby complicating complexity further. All that is needed is little common sense, a standardized approach to documenting components, and some discipline to make it all happen.

Related articles of interest:

Managing Design Complexity – Feb 7, 2005
Communication Complexity – Sep 07, 2010
The Five Elements of Mass Production – Feb 11, 2013

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

For Tim’s columns, see:

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Copyright © 2015 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) “The Town Square” with host John Siggins (Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30-3:00pm Eastern); WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; and KIT-AM 1280 in Yakima, Washington “The Morning News” with hosts Dave Ettl & Lance Tormey (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube.


Posted in Management, Systems, Technology | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »


Posted by Tim Bryce on December 2, 2013


– Are we juggling too many balls?

To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Recently, while I was pumping gasoline at the local station, a 1967 GTO pulled up on the opposite side of the pump. She was in mint condition, and painted a dark blue with a black top, typical for the period. It reminded me of my brother-in-law’s car which he drove in college, right down to the color and super stock tires. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t resist the temptation to strike up a conversation with the owner. When I complimented him, he flashed a big grin. He claimed the GTO was something he always wanted since he was a teenager. I asked if I could take a peek under the hood and he was glad to oblige. In addition to being spotless, it was a marvel of simplicity. There, within easy reach, was the battery, the radiator, the air filter, the carburetor, and, of course, the engine. The owner claimed he maintained the GTO himself. Years ago, I worked on such cars at a SOHIO station in Cincinnati and well remember how easy it was to work on them. Changing the oil
and filter took no longer than five minutes. Changing tires and tune ups were also a breeze. Today though, it is much different as you have to be one part mechanic and one part programmer. Tasks that used to take minutes, now take hours at more expensive rates.

As we parted, I watched the muscle car pull away from the gas station and listened to the roar of its dual exhaust. I envied the man and marveled at the simplicity of the machine. It caused me to think how complicated our lives have become, not just our machines, but how we communicate and socialize with each other. Does life really need to be so complicated?

We’ve put computer chips in just about anything that moves. In addition to automobiles, you find them in airplanes, boats and ships, trains, our pets, and we’re now embedding them in ourselves. You can also find them in a variety of cards, be it credit, debit, greeting, business or otherwise. Motion pictures can no longer be made without computer generated graphics of some kind. The intent is to make them more visually stimulating to human senses. In fact, most computer extensions today are designed to enhance human senses, and compensate for physical limitations, and intellectual weaknesses. It is merging into our very existence. So much so, it is becoming difficult to discern where true human strengths exist as opposed to technological assistance.

This is affecting how we communicate. For example, we are doing less verbalization and more texting, e-mail, and tweeting. This, in turn, affects our sense of etiquette and common courtesy. By doing so, it alters our behavior and how we work with others. Even our sense of focus is challenged as we are expected to multitask like our technology. Our frenetic pace tests our powers of concentration, patience, learning, and simple ability to get things done.

To illustrate, when we recently decided to move our office, we wanted to eliminate our land lines and replace it with a wireless solution. Consequently, I visited a local Verizon Wireless store and was greeted by a young man who was eager to assist me. I selected a solution based on his recommendation. It was actually a simple solution which could satisfy all of our needs. So far, so good. However, the salesman took an inordinate amount of time processing the order. I watched as he worked deftly between his tablet computer, his smart phone, and the store’s desktop computer. In other words, there wasn’t a single screen for him to enter the order. Although he appeared to know what he was doing, it was a real test of his ability to multitask on multiple devices. The net result was that a process that should have taken no more than five minutes to perform, took 45 minutes instead. This was certainly not a demonstration of improved productivity, regardless of the glitzy technology. As an aside, our corporate number remains unchanged as Verizon was able to roll it over to our new system.

The fact remains, the more complexity we add, the more balls we have to juggle, and the more complicated our lives become. Younger people are more adept at managing such complexity than older people who are more familiar with technology from another era. Today, we see people responding more readily to the ring or ding of their smart phone as opposed to a conversation with family, friends, and business associates. People now walk, jog, bike, and exercise while plugged into their music, totally devoid of the world around them. They’ve tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. Such attitudes are leading to a narcissistic society where even our sense of right and wrong is being altered.

With new technology comes new laws, rules, and regulations. For example, with the introduction of seat belts came new laws to enforce their use. The same is true with bicycle helmets. Texting and telephone technology has also created new “rights” and “wrongs,” which we must add to our juggling list.

I understand the need for our technology, but I am also weary of its addictive powers and effect on human behavior. This is why I relish such things as beautiful outdoor vistas, such as in the mountains or by the beach, or a cold stream to catch trout, a candid conversation with some friends at nightfall, perhaps with a glass of good drink or aromatic cigar. Or a 1967 GTO. It is the little things that matter in life, and we should be mastering them before technology masters us.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

For Tim’s columns, see:

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2013 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) “The Town Square” with host John Siggins (Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30-3:00pm Eastern), KGAB-AM 650 “The Morning Zone” with host Dave Chaffin (weekdays, 6:00-10:00am Mountain), and KIT-AM 1280 in Yakima, Washington “The Morning News” with hosts Lance Tormey & Brian Teegarden (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube.

Posted in Life, Management, Technology | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »