The Killing Complexity Canvas



What is it?

A 1-day hackathon workshop for 12 people to identify and eliminate specific organisational complexity. By the end of this workshop:

  • Frustrating, time consuming internal complexity will be identified and removed
  • Specific causes and conditions driving complexity will be understood
  • A minimum of 12 simplicity sprints will be launched
  • Participants will know the mindsets, behaviours and habits which create complexity, and simplicity
  • Participants will be able to re-run this simplicity process with others. To some extent, the jungle always grows back


How does it work?



The Canvas has been designed to be used by Teams, Functions, Business Units or even by an entire Organisation.

For a 40-person company, you’d probably run the Canvas for the entire Organisation. For a large multinational, you’d use the Canvas across multiple teams in various Functions and Business Units.

The Canvas works by:

  • Focusing on changing internal complexity, not external complexity
  • Identifying specific activity caused by internal complexity, not discussing complexity in a broad, vague sense
  • Working to a clearly defined scope
    – Complexity inside the scope can be simplified in the workshop
    – Complexity outside of the scope will be escalated as required
  • Challenging the Organisation on:
    – Where time, money and talent is wasted
    – What’s overly complex
    – Why things are done the way they are


Pre-Workshop (-4 weeks)

Scoping call with Sponsor

  • The scope of the canvas is agreed with the Sponsor
  • The Sponsor confirms which key activities relating to the Organisation’s Purpose and Strategy this group should be doing more of

Time: 60 minutes
Outcome: Sponsor buy-in and a clearly defined scope

Pre-workshop engagement and crowdsourcing complexity

  • Participants receive an engagement pack with:
    – Background information on complexity
    – A 4-week complexity diary
    – Scouting complexity cards, which are used to identify 3 – 4 real complexity examples

Scouting complexity card

A short online survey (Scouting Complexity Survey) can also be used to source examples from a wider audience.

Time: 60 minutes per workshop participant. 10 minutes per survey participant
Outcome: Participants generate real, specific complexity examples


The Killing Complexity Canvas Workshop (1 day)

01. What is Simplicity and Complexity?

  • Define simplicity and complexity
  • Outline the benefits of killing complexity
  • Create the simplicity value case for the workshop*

*As an illustration, 12 people working 40 hours a week equals 480 hours a week, 1,920 hours a month and 23,040 a year (assumes 48 working weeks a year). How many hours are lost to internal complexity? Our experience says somewhere between 15% – 25%, which in this case is 3,456 – 5,760 hours per year.

Time: 60 minutes
Outcome: Participants are introduced to the topic, and agree a value case and a stretch goal


02. Introducing the Killing Complexity Canvas

The Canvas is introduced on an A0 poster. There are 3 main sections:


  1. (To do more of this…) Activities which drive Purpose and Strategy
    Participants are asked to attach activities which create optimal value to the Canvas. This is what this group is seeking to maximise.
  2. (We need to do less of this…). Examples of potentially unnecessary internal complexity
    Complexity, and the low value work it creates, is categorised into nine areas. For each of the nine areas, participants are asked for examples of what could be simpler and for examples of what currently works well.
  3. (By addressing these) Complexity Causes and Conditions.
    Later in the workshop, the group captures what is creating the complexity.

Time: 90 minutes
Outcome: Participants share, agree and pinpoint frustrating, time consuming internal complexity by placing real-life examples onto the Canvas.


3. Introducing Complexity causes and conditions

  • Participants are introduced to common complexity causes and conditions via a gallery walk:
    Contextual (e.g. regulated industry, changing customer needs, challenger competitors)
    Structural (e.g. obsolete IT, legacy processes, new Business Units)
    Cultural (e.g. lack of candour, disempowering leaders, command and control management)
  • Participants discuss complexity causes and conditions they experience

Time: 60 minutes
Outcome: Participants identify specific causes and conditions for the complexity they’ve identified


4. Creating a culture of simplicity

  • Participants are educated on the mindsets, behaviours and habits which both create and kill complexity. We share a starter toolkit which includes:
    Simplicity Mindsets: Less usually creates more; Busy doesn’t mean good; Time is the same as money; and Not everything needs to be perfect
    Simplicity Behaviours: Clarity; Collaboration; Courage; Empowerment and Focus
    Simplicity Habits: Saying no!; Why, why, why?; Not tinkering, Not reinventing, What could be simpler?
  • The Group learns how other organisations such as Amazon, Apple, GE and Google have killed complexity

Time: 90 minutes
Outcome: Participants are aware of the mindsets, behaviours and habits which create complexity and simplicity. Group is inspired by other organisations who’ve successfully killed complexity


5. Designing simplicity sprints

  •  The Group decides which complexity examples they want to progress to a simplicity sprint
  • Once the ideas are selected, participants work in groups of 3 – 4 people to design the experiment using the following template, which uses a set of provocative questions to
    1. Understand the AS-IS Complexity
    2. Create the TO-BE Simplicity Experiment

A group of 12 people will create 12 – 24 simplicity experiments.

In 8 weeks, participants will report on their progress.

Time: 90 minutes
Outcomes: The Group creates a minimum of 12 simplicity experiments which will be implemented immediately


6. Sponsor’s symposium

  • Group presents their simplicity sprints to the Sponsor
  • Sponsor approves simplicity sprints, is made aware of complexity felt by the Group and what’s causing this

Time: 30 minutes
Outcomes: Sponsor approves the simplicity experiments and is able to use their influence to escalate systemic complexity



Nudging change

  • Participants become part of a Slack, Yammer or equivalent group to share progress, successes and challenges on their sprints
  • Nudges and other relevant content is shared

Elapsed booster session (+ 8 weeks)

  • Participants reconvene to share progress, successes and challenges from the sprints
  • Impact is measured and the workshop ROI is calculated
  • Participants commit to completing a further sprint and to share the Canvas with others

Time: 90 minutes
Outcomes: The commercial impact of the simplicity sprints is signed off. Future killing complexity is planned



Does the Canvas work? A case study from Telefonica

We delivered a version of the canvas (two half days, rather than one whole day) at global telecoms giant Telefonica.

The first cohort of 15 managers worked on simplicity sprints which delivered a total 17,130 hours in the next 12 months. This time was reinvested for innovation. Wide-reaching organisational complexity such inter-department meetings, use of email, a new product development process and KPI reporting were all simplified.

“Stop. are the real deal – flexible, fun and thought leading. Most importantly, they get results. Our Managers created over 1,000 hours per year each by simplifying frustrating and time wasting organisational complexity”.

Teresa Fernandez, Head of Talent, Telefónica



Back to The Killing Complexity Canvas home page

01 The Killing Complexity Canvas

02 Why Complexity Matters

03 The Simplicity Solution

04 Canvas Design Principles