How are we making this too complicated?

I have had people come to me with seemingly complex problems requiring what they thought would be complex solutions. Oddly, the elegant solution was often a gross simplification of the complex problem. Often because I just didn't understand the complexity.

Example 1. A shipper can only fit 1200 boxes in a 40-foot trailer. The material is so light, they can never make weight. The boxes must be delivered to depots throughout the United States with no more than a 3-day window either way. What box should go on which truck? The customer thought they needed sophisticated algorithms to provide an optimal solution. The simple solution: a screen where an educated user can drag boxes (or groups of boxes) to trailers and can drag trailers to destinations. The computer did very little, but the difficult business problem turned into a "game" that employees fought each other to "play".

Example 2: A cloth manufacturer wanted a linear algebra solution to determine what products to mount on their mills and where to set the knives. The simple solution: A screen with all customer orders and key data about each order (size, weight, width). Everything on the screen was sortable and switchable. Again, an intelligent user could "play a game" to schedule the mills almost as well as any automated algorithm.

Example 3: A distributor wanted to know what to buy, when to buy it, and what to put on sale to move slow inventory. He wanted an expensive ERP program. The simple solution: A screen with all supplies and demands that can be mixed, matched, sorted, and selected in many different ways. Again, an intelligent user can "play" with his data and then confidently make decisions.

The real bonus of all these simple solutions? The person drove the decision and felt in control of the situation. No more blaming the computer for the results.

My suggestion: Slow down. Even stop. Ask, "How are we making this too complicated? What simple little thing could I do to get just part of the way there?" You may surprise yourself and find that the simple little idea IS the solution.

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