Dont Overcomplicate Things!

March 30, 2013 – Posted on ProjectManager.com

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Project managers sometimes have a tendency to be all doom and gloom. We want to make sure all of our bases are covered and that there are contingency plans in place for everything. This mindset many times results in over-thinking and over-complicating matters. The following is an example of what happens when we over-complicate a situation, and ways to keep things simple without sacrificing planning or timelines.

We were in the middle of contract negotiations with one of our clients for a new project. We had done business together for years, so it was pretty much par for the course with non-disclosure agreements, professional service agreements, statements of work, amendments to statements of work, and work orders that served as the legal parameters for the relationship. Each time a new project was proposed, all of these documents would resurface and would need to be reviewed so that everything remained copacetic.

This particular negotiation went a little sideways. The client had hired a new attorney, and she became involved in the process. After reviewing the statement of work and related work order, she sent back the document with one of the client’s employees, who relayed her message that she didn’t like the way it was put together. She wanted it more in the style of the original agreement, which had been assembled a number of years before. Once we did that, she would meet to finalize the details.

We freaked out! What did she mean that she wanted itDon't over-complicate things! in the original style? A lot had transpired since then. New services had come online, definitions had changed, and the old agreements were no longer an accurate representation of the relationship. What was she trying to do?

We had meeting after internal meeting to try and figure out what she wanted to accomplish. Did she want us to go back three years and lose all the ground we had made? What were her intentions? Everyone had a theory. Everyone had a counter-theory. We spent hours trying to determine what she meant by “going back to the original style”. We consulted our own attorney to make sure we would be protected if we went back to those original agreements.

We set up a meeting with her to review the agreements. We were all prepped about why it would not be a good move to go back to the original agreements. There was a bit of small talk as we then dove into the nitty-gritty. One of my colleagues asked her why she felt that the original agreement was a better style to use.

Here it comes. We were all ready to pounce as soon as she was finished talking.

“Oh,” she said. “I like the original style because instead of having two documents, you have everything in just one. Can you copy and paste this second document and combine it with the first?”

What? That was it? She just wanted us to combine two documents into one document? What about the intrigue, conspiracy theories, and subterfuge? What about her trying to blindside us and set us back three years? The fact was, that was never her intention. That was all our imagination. We had overcomplicated things WAY more than necessary. All she had wanted to do was simplify things.

Why People Overcomplicate Matters

People overcomplicate things for a number of reasons, most of which are avoidable!

  • Miscommunication – The person from the client’s miscommunicationcompany that delivered the agreement back to us was not quite clear on what she meant. He tried to communicate her intentions by recalling what he had read into her body language and what he was picking up during his conversation with her. His misperception introduced a complexity that was clearly off base. Then, we took it and ran with it and obfuscated the situation even more based upon our limited and erroneous understanding.
  • It’s Easy – It may not make sense, but it’s true: it’s easy to over-complicate things. Think about it. It takes effort to ask for clarification, and to try to understand someone. Maybe the person sitting across from the attorney didn’t want to give the impression he didn’t understand what she meant. We all took the path of least resistance by assuming or imagining what she meant, and ran with it. We were on a deadline ourselves. We needed to turn the agreement around quickly. It would’ve taken time and effort to go back and ask for clarification, and it would have delayed the process. In retrospect, that wasn’t a good idea, but it did keep things moving forward.
  • Some People Like the Drama – Drama is often unavoidable. Some people find it very hard to take things at face value. Nothing is ever simple to them. There’s always a ‘gotcha’ or an angle that they need to be on the lookout for. They will have the tendency to turn something that could be relatively simple into a tangled web of confusion. There’s a place for this type of person in the workplace, because you can’t always take everything at face value. However, left unchecked, it could become unmanageable and detrimental to your project moving forward.

How to Prevent Over-complicating Matters

There are a number of things you can do to not be the one to overcomplicate things. My suggestions are as follows:

  • Don’t Overreact – If something doesn’t come back or work out the way you expect, do not overreact. Overreaction is an emotion. Emotion is contagious and infects others. A group of emotionally infected people has a tendency to not think clearly and can even devolve into a mob mentality. An emotionally charged mob can only make things worse and more complex.Whenever you are confronted with information that may not be what you expect, take a step back and process it. Make sense of it in your own mind before you get the troops all riled up. This will help keep a simple solution at the forefront.
  • Don’t Assume the Worst – We certainly assumed the worst Don't assume the worstof the attorney. We questioned her motives and thought she meant us harm. That wasn’t the case. She just wanted the format to be easier to read. That is far from the worst case scenario.There are two extremes in any situation…worst case and best case. Chances are slim that you’ll encounter either one. Rather, you will most likely end up somewhere in the middle. Keep that in mind (while you are not overreacting) and this will help prevent you from complicating things unnecessarily as well.
  • Ask Them – Here’s a sure-fire way to not overcomplicate something: ask them what they meant! There’s nothing wrong in going back to someone and telling them that you want clarification to make sure you understand the request. I’ve gone back an untold number of times to ask for clarification, which has helped the other person to further simplify their request even more. Often, they hadn’t quite thought it through themselves, and were glad for the opportunity to talk it over and come up with a simpler solution.
  • Keep the Lines of Communication Wide Open –  Keeping lines of communication wide open means you can ask questions at any time. Maintaining a healthy relationship means you won’t immediately overreact by assuming the worst case scenario. These require effort every single day but the payoff is well worth the effort.

Well, we copied and pasted one agreement into the next and found ourselves with a new and exciting project to work on together. Believe me, we kept things simple from that point forward!

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