In late July, Google announced its first Simplicity Sprint, which aims for “better results in less time.” According to CEO Sundar Pichai, Simplicity Sprints will engage employees about working with increased clarity and efficiency; identifying which speed bumps could be removed for better, faster results; and how to take an entrepreneurial approach to eliminating waste.
Most of us don’t simplify our own work because we don’t know where to start. What should you simplify first? And how do you make time to do it? Also, how do you know what’s corporate red tape vs. work that you’re permitted to modify?
I asked these same questions a decade ago when I began interviewing people around the world for what became Why Simple Wins. Shockingly, I encountered very few solutions to workplace complexity. Other than the software methodology Agile and Lean Six Sigma — synonymous with large manufacturers in the ‘90s — organizations didn’t have many options for simplifying.
Today, you don’t need an army of project managers or expensive consultants to simplify your workday. All you need is the desire to make change — and a willingness to try the DIY sprints below.
1. Simplify any form/document/report that requires more than 30 minutes or three employees. Which documents, forms or reports are time-sucks for your org? Do you know if any other teams are duplicating the same effort or data? Find immediate opportunities to simplify by listing every form/document/report that takes more than 30 minutes or requires more than three team members to complete.
From here, decide which of these tasks could be streamlined, paused or eliminated. If you need buy-in from someone higher up, use solution-driven language to frame your request (i.e., “this change will enable our team to devote X number of weekly hours to strategic goals like Y or Z”). If no one misses the task by next quarter and there’s no negative impact, take action to delete it forever.
2. Encourage and reward employees who create workarounds that simplify a frustrating process or time-consuming task. When our employees create workarounds, it’s a sign that a process or system is slowing their workflow. Assuming no one’s health or safety is placed at risk, I’m a big fan of workarounds. They exist at the intersection of simplification and innovation as opportunities to empower team members and enhance organizational productivity.
To start removing bottlenecks and rewarding those who simplify your business, announce a monthly contest for the most effective workaround. Invite people from every area and level of your company — and remove entrant’s names/units from submissions to avoid bias from judges. The criteria for “most effective” will vary by your industry and org size, but make sure the reward for workarounds will actually motivate your employees.
3. Host weekly or monthly simplifying sessions. Invite employees and leadership to come prepared to identify one task, meeting or process that’s needlessly complicated or redundant. The goal is to eliminate, outsource or simplify as many of these tasks as possible during the session. Consider holding these gatherings onsite as a 4PM happy hour — free beer and snacks tend to encourage participation — or schedule them at the golden hour for your distributed teams.
Every organization wants better performance. And simplicity is your path forward. Starting with the three tactics above, you can begin carving away complexity and creating space for more meaningful work. Not only can you conduct these sprints virtually, in-person or hybrid, you can trade them for the unproductive meetings or reports that you and your team eliminate.