Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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#Change resistance in others is proportional to our own resistance to change one’s mental model (#stwg #systemsthinking)

Most Change Management activities are geared toward informing, explaining and training people into the change that ought to be done. It’s more or less Coercion Management to me (they conveniently share the same initials by the way).

There’s also the saying that goes “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed“. How true!

It occurred to me that the change resistance we most often sense in others may indeed be the reflection of our own resistance to change our mental models with regard to the situation that needs to be changed.

Which comes down to the assumption (a mental model as well) that there is a reality “out there” and that some view of it may be right when that of others may be wrong (the changer here supposing to have the right – or a righter – view of the situation and thus being allowed and empowered to force the change onto others).

Indeed, the more we push our (unilaterally designed) change, the more people resist. How come? I see two main reasons for that:

  • lack of people involvement in designing the change, with various consequences
  • personal belief to one view of reality only, violating the Law of Requisite Variety (Ross Ashby). Read more »

#SystemsThinking and the Four Agreements of Miguel Ruiz

Here’s an edited repost of a comment I made on LinkedIn Systems Thinking World discussion  forum:

I see a contradiction that needs to be resolved for organizations to be improved. By accepting that 95% of problems come from the system (Deming), it may feel like people are make non-accountable for what occurs. Yet, the people make the system as much as the system makes the people.

So it should be that every people should make their maximum to change the system by changing themselves first (what’s in their span/locus of control).

Which reminds me the Four Agreements of Miguel Ruiz ( :

  • Be Impeccable With Your Word.
  • Don’t Take Anything Personally.
  • Don’t Make Assumptions.
  • Always Do Your Best.

Which I could translate into raw/rough systems speak:

  • Be nice to the system (for it could fight/feed back)
  • It’s not you, it’s the system, stupid!
  • Update your mental models
  • (Do your share to) Improve the system

This also comforts me into feeling that systems thinking teaches compassion.

Comments anyone?

#Lean management & #Complexity: what does it mean and why it works

Cynefin framework

Cynefin framework

Simple times

In the good ol’ days of manufacturing (or service industry), the world was seen as rather simple: you had clients that wanted widgets that you built. For different needs you built different widgets. That’s the simple domain of the Cynefin framework as pictured on the right: you Sensed what the client wanted, you Categorized his need and then Responded to it.

Craft industry was at best for this kind of environment. Few thinking was necessary at that time in order to best serve clients.

Complicated times

Then, progress made clients wanting more (in quality and in diversity). In that realm of Complicated environment, the clients’ requests had to be Sensed, then Analyzed before being Responded to.

In an effort to optimize costs, it’s been decided that making “lots of brainpower” was the way to go and that was the gold days of Taylor: some people were paid to think while others were paid to build the widgets. The best way to build was being thought by brains dedicated to that purpose.

See how thinking is included in the Cynefin framework through the “Analyze” step? Brain power was necessary to efficiently design the methods of work, yet, having it all in one place was enough (in Lean, we would say that there were batches of brainpower, instead of an on-demand usage of brainpower…)

Today: complex times

Today, with such variety in the wild, the world has become Complex because clients can easily connect to a world of other opportunities and their needs reflect that complexity of the world (indeed, they’re trying to match their environment variety to survive, just like our companies). From a Systems Thinking point of view, it means that each client contact is different and there’s so much variation in it that one brain power only cannot feature the requisite variety to properly serve the client. To survive in a Complex world, one has to probe the client’s environment to be able to Sense what’s really needed and only then Respond to the (hopefully correctly understood) need.

One can see here that the thinking has disappeared of the framework, being replaced by a probe and a sense (isn’t it what genchi genbutsu is all about?). That’s where Lean came as a force because:

  • the client needs are really taken seriously, further than just analysis, by being probed and sensed by going to the client’s gemba.
  • to respond to that richly “analysis” of the client needs, the organization needs to be able to quickly respond to it, and that means to be able to quickly adapt to the requisite variety of the client’s environment.

How to you achieve that fast-moving organization? By removing all that is either unnecessary or hindering it from performing as requested by the variety of the client demands. In Lean terms, we speak of removing muda from processes.

Connecting also to Complexity principles, it means making the organization more of an opened system (Lean talks of “extended company”) than a closed one. Closed systems fail prey of the 2nd law of thermodynamics which postulates an increase of entropy, which means more disorder hence less efficiency.

A corollary to the preceding is also that if one wants to maintain order (or even further organize / increase efficiency) and to adapt to the client’s requisite variety, one needs to bring energy to the system, thus reducing entropy.

Continuous improvement doesn’t occur by chance, one has to constantly dedicate resources to it. In a finite world of resources, that means deciding upon which resources are allocated to “work as usual” and resources allocated to improvement (fight against entropy to keep it low).

A curse anatomy: #Systems Dynamics view of Micro-management #systhnk

Systems dynamics diagram of micro-management addiction situations

Systems dynamics diagram of micro-management addiction situations

The (real) situation

A friend of mine (middle manager) himself is subjected to micro-management from it’s own manager. Given the high number of projects and subjects ongoing in his perimeter, it’s a pain for him to follow all of them at the level of details required by his own upper manager.

A tentative model

Upon analysis with a systemic diagram, I found a horrible picture where the more a manager would go into micro-management, the more it will feel the urge to go. Here’s the explanation why (click on diagram to open it in a new window to follow explanations)

At the beginning, there is a micro-management need, either from a personal inclination and/or from a high hierarchical position that naturally prevents someone from having detailed information about project.

Balancing loop B1: the manager being in micro-management need take on the micro-management of activities in need (from his point of view), which will, hopefully and again, from his point of view, fix any issues on these activities hence relieving the micro-management need.

This is the main reason which a micro-manager start micro-managing in the first place. Only that this triggers three different reinforcing loops that we will now describe, resulting in a classical “fixes that fail” systems archetype…

Reinforcing loop R1: out of that micro-management need, some activities are felt in need of being-micro-managed (because of perceived problems for instance). The more the manager thus focuses on these micro-managed activities, the less there’s a focus on other activies. As a consequence, issues on other activies start to raise (we’ll see why in the next paragraph). The more other activities have issues, the more they are felt as activities in need of micro-management, which increased the need for the manager to micro-manage activities.

Reinforcing loop R2: the more a manager increase his micro-management need, the less his direct reports are motivated. Which results in a decrease in management of their activities and further increase issues. Side note: an issue on an activity need to be considered from the point of view of the micro-managing manager. This further adds to the micro-management need in the first place.

Reinforcing loop R3: when the motivation of direct reports decreases (as seen in R2), so does the trust on the micro-manager in them, which further increases his micro-managing needs.

So, there we are in a situation where the consequences of micro-management further reinforce themselves.

The solutions?

So, where do we go from there?

Traditional way of dealing with “fixes that fail” archetypes is to try to anticipate the unexpected consequences (of micro-managing in this case). Here, that would mean informing the micro-managing manager of that systemic situation. As we’re talking of a personal inclination (whose psychologic causes may be diverse) it’s not sure that the person will change his behavior (further, pushing the model onto him may just raise it’s resistance to the much needed change, hence locking the situation even more).

It maybe the case that the current situation is one in which we’re dealing with a symptom instead of addressing the root cause. In that case, we’d be in a shifting the burden systems archetype situation with new possibilities arising. I’m for instance thinking of teaching people how to “properly” manage their activities such as not to trigger micro-management needs and teach the micro-manager that he needs to teach rather than do himself, just for his own sanity (hereby addressing the WIIFM: “what’s in it for me”).

It may be the time for some Solution Focus work with the micro-manager and/or the micro-managed people: what behavior worked for you in the past? How can you do more?

Or some coaching, maybe using Motivational Interviewing style where the micro-managed manager is brought peacefully to recognizing that he needs to change (for his own and his people sanity) and then coach him to change?

Have you ever been face with a micro-manager? How did you manage that situation without flying away?


Biology of Business : a Farrow Partnership presentation (#complexity #systhnk)

I found that slideware on the field of complexity adapted to business and what it means in terms of things to stop doing and things to start doing. Ideas are said to come from Complex Adaptive Systems which I yet have to investigate in detail.

Indeed, there are 11 new things one should start doing to be more efficient:

  1. Pursue agility and resilience
  2. Consciously learn from daily experience
  3. Allow solutions to emerge
  4. Pull, don’t push
  5. Seek healthy mixtures
  6. Rely on vision and boundaries
  7. Appreciate the messy phases
  8. Expect non-linear progress
  9. Cooperate to create abundance
  10. Promote grassroots initiatives
  11. Work in a place designed for humans

Reading this list, I see that I must have been deeply impressed by all of complexity and systems thinking readings since that’s what I’m tending to do these days. My natural inclination toward these have been reinforced by the justifications I’ve found in my readings.

Lean seeks to achieve perfect agility and resilience, with learning and nurture solutions from people. Do I need to talk about pull/push ? Appreciative Inquiry deals with mix of people and points of views, helps build a strong Vision and strive to messy moments (brainstorming, exchanges…)

The complete slide show along with details for each of the 11 steps is available here.

Syncho : a blog about Viable System Model, by Raul Espejo (#systemsthinking)

I just wanted to let my readers know that I’ve discovered the blog of Raul Espejo, Director at Syncho and expert at Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model of which I talk sometimes here.

You can read his posts here: Syncho.

I have some links to web pages about VSM, some of them having been done by R Espejo himself: check my delicious bookmarks on VSM (beware Value Stream Mapping links 😉



Viable Systems Model principles and laws (a #mindmap posted on @biggerplate)

I have often talked on this blog about the law of requisite variety.

Stafford Beer indeed created a model of viable organizations which is supported by a set of principles and laws that I summarized in the just uploaded mindmap.

If you want to know more on that topic, have a look at my delicious bookmarks on VSM.

This is an (old) initial version. I need to update it with information about how the VSM model is organized:

  • Management (S3, S3*, S4, S5)
  • Operations (S1, S2)
  • Environment
  • Communications channels between sub-systems (C1 to C6)

Stay tuned!

The happy complexity of organizational productivity (#lean #solutionfocus #appreciativeinquiry #systemsthinking #positive #psychology)

I’ve been reading that article in Havard Business Review about “The power of small wins” (paying article) and somehow some things felt down together in place:

  • Lean management and any continuous productivity improvement approach for that matter
  • Solution Focus
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Positive Psychology
  • Happiness (at work)

Read more »

Nice website about #Deming : (#lean #systemsthinking #change)

I’ve stumbled on this nice websiote with lots of advocacy for Deming’s work (yes, the quality movement initiator). Have a look at

Moreover, the site also makes the link with Lean and Systems Thinking and advocates for a change in management techniques.

Have a good reading!

When is the last time you reflected on your own management behaviors?

A #systemsthinking explanation of lack of respect for people (fundamental #lean pillar)

I have recently finished reading this excellent paper from Raul Espejo regarding the law of requisite variety: “Giving Requisite Variety to Strategic and Implementation Processes: Theory and Practice“. Espejo is a person to read if you’re interested in the Viable System Model (see corresponding articles on this blog and my delicious bookmarks on VSM) as created by Stafford Beer.

In this paper, Espejo make the stunning comment that (I quote, emphasis mine, excerpted from page 3):

“[…] many organisations are still driven by the hierarchical paradigm that assumes the distinctions made at the top are the only relevant ones, which implies that people at lower levels are there only to implement them, but not to make distinctions of their own. Therefore the assumption is that the complexity of a senior manager is much greater than that of a professional in the production line. Somehow it is assumed that people at the top have much bigger brains than those working at ‘lower’ levels. Since they don’t, the space of creative action at ‘lower levels has had to be reduced. The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. This becomes manifest when power is exercised by enforcing distinctions made at corporate levels to construct a limited context of action for the majority in the organisation.”

The last emphasized sentence is insightful for me: “The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy”. What is meant is that with top management having a mental model of having bigger brains than people at lower hierarchical levels, they take on more decisions than people below them. This mental model then hinders learning from the very people that top management would probably want to have bigger brain but that they prevent them from developing… Management complains about employees being cogs in the machine, but, because they think they are, they remove every opportunity for them to turn back to being human and use their brain, which makes them further into cogs.

Another case of espoused-theory vs. theory-in-use, I guess.

In Lean, we say that management should act as coaches to their reporting collaborators and don’t give them answers (we even encourage management to let their employees fail in order to learn). It may be slower on the short-term, but probably the best way to grow them and increase productivity and morale in the longer term.

How many times today have you solved someone else’s problem?

I hope you’ll solve less tomorrow…

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