What is the Difference Between Complex and Complicated Industrial Processes?

Change can be scary, and businesses are often reluctant to adopt new technology because they are afraid it may complicate their workflows. Implementing innovative solutions may sound complex, it doesn’t have to complicate daily operations. In fact, customers who have adopted these technologies often find that not only have their jobs been simplified, but they have been able to cut costs, improve uptime and increase reliability. This shows why it’s increasingly important to be able and willing to adapt to rapid shifts in business and technology.

However, before adopting any new technological business solutions, it’s crucial to understand the differences between complex and complicated processes.

What makes a problem complicated?

While complicated problems can be a challenge to solve, they are surmountable with proper rules that are easy enough for team members of all levels to follow. According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, these issues can be resolved with systems and processes similar to the hierarchical structure most companies use to manage employees. Think of a simple flow chart, where each component is linked to another component or a solution with a straight line that is easy to follow and resolve. You identify a problem, link steps to the solution in the correct order, and end with the desired goal achieved.

What makes a problem complex?

A complex problem is determined by the interactive relations between the parts that can create infinite possibilities and opportunities. Complex problems:

  • Have multiple interrelated factors
  • Don’t live a static, controlled environment
  • Cannot be solved if all the parts are solved separately
  • Don’t have one best solution
  • Sometimes require more questions than answers

Take, for example, a technological disruption like blockchain or a competitor who has an innovative business model. A simple algorithm or set of rules to follow can’t solve problems as complex as these, which require more creativity, flexibility, and time. It’s important to adopt a complexity mindset when tackling a complex problem. You want to manage complex problems, as they are ever-changing; not simply solve them and walk away.

How are complex and complicated problems different?

When facing a problem, managers often default to complicated problem-solving because they often need fast solutions. But quick fixes aren’t always what’s best long-term. As Rick Nason, an associate professor of finance at Dalhousie University’s Rowe School of Business, explains in his book “It’s not complicated: The art and science of complexity in business,”  if you manage complex  things as if they are complicated, you’re likely to be setting your organization up to fail. This is because complex problems involve too many unknowns and too many interrelated factors to reduce to rules and processes, which can resolve complicated problems.

Move forward with your complex or complicated problem

Make sure to invest the time needed to determine whether a problem is complex or complicated; then pursue a solution accordingly. Failure to set your employees up for success will only make their jobs difficult. Here at Command Alkon, we understand the problems that can occur when new technology is applied to outdated and inefficient business processes.

Take our COMMANDoptimize system, for example. Before recommending the system to a customer, we start by doing an assessment — what we call an Operational Assessment — where we help customers sort out the complex from the complicated. The assessment looks at almost all facets of the operations and recommends improvements that can be made, as well as what critical changes would need to be addressed before Optimization could be introduced. 

We conduct interviews with all of the key members of the management team and any employees directly involved in the ready-mix dispatch operations and holistically consider the daily processes and procedures and compare them to best practices that we have observed from successful Optimization customers.

Not everyone who completes an Operational Assessment ultimately installs Optimization, as there are business rules that make it impossible to gain the benefit of Optimization. Your process must first undergo a transformation before new technology systems are implemented.

Think your business can benefit from Optimization? Check out Construction in Focus’ article, “In Pursuit of Optimization,” which elaborates on the value of an Operational Assessment. Spark a conversation with one of our Optimization pros here

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