Appreciating Systems

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Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » Building Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your Organization

December 10th, 2010 Posted in Change, Lean, Systems Thinking Tags: , , , ,

This is an interesting blog entry of John Hunter (Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » Building Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your Organization).

It might well be studied as a way to go to increase Systems Thinking into management (and employees) heads.

Yet, I’m more wary of the focus on tools because of the risk of commoditization of what is being introduced (Lean or else). I’ve written about this already.

It also relates to The Chasm and the gap between early adopters and the early majority. Hard work is required to cross the chasm.

Change resistance bell curve

Change resistance bell curve featuring The Chasm

Could it be that Innovators and Early Adopters are quickly and easily building a vision of where they might end with the new, that get them moving into that direction? Wouldn’t trying to work on a better mental image of the future help in trying to make resistant people adopt the change?

Regarding Lean, we have now quite some company that went for a Lean management system. Some were highly successful, other less, but it seems hat failure is generally associated with either not believing in Lean (self-fulfilling prophecy) or not doing “real Lean” (which generally means that Lean activities have been focused on tools and not on the management that should go with them – that’s L.AM.E. (Lean As Mistakenly Executed))

Change This – Radical Management: Mastering the Art of Continuous Innovation

I’ve posted yesterday about a book I’ve heard of: Radical Management: Mastering the Art of Continuous Innovation.

Now, in my mailbox today, I can see the lastest ChangeThis newsletter with a presentation of Steve Denning’s ideas which he details in his book. The manifesto is here: Change This – Radical Management: Mastering the Art of Continuous Innovation.

I’m happy that I’ve read this manifesto, because it allows me to understand more about what that style of management is all about. And I must say that I like it even more!

Being an idea-connector as I am, I can’t help but connect the principles that Mr Denning proposes to the ones I’m more used to. Here they are.

What are the 7 principles?

First, a quick reminder of the seven principles Mr Denning proposes:

  1. The purpose of work is to delight clients through value innovation
  2. Work should be carried out in self-organizing teams
  3. Work should be done in client-driven iterations
  4. Each iteration should deliver value to clients
  5. Total openness: everyone levels with everyone
  6. The workplace is a context in which teams themselves want to improve
  7. Management communicates through interactive conversations

I shall now link these very interesting propositions with the main topics of this blog and show how I feel they relate to one another.

Lean

Lean is a total management system encompassing the whole organization. Or it should be. One of the fundamental principle of Lean is that you must give customers what they want, at the moment they want it, in the quantity they want, all by reducing their burden to buy it from you. As Lean is rather radical in its force to move toward this direction, it means that to reduce your costs, you also need to reduce your turnover and the best way to do that is to give back some power to your employees and take care of them. You need to let them use their mind as to what and how the company can be improved and how they can best work to best serve your customers.

As the driving obsession of Lean is to achieve all that through the mean of reducing the delay between the moment a customer makes a request and the moment you’ve collected the money he gave you in purchase of your product or service, this means that you should try to deliver any products to any customer requesting it (that’s one-piece-flow behind it, for sure).

I relate this to Mr Denning’s points #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5.

Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking is a way of thinking of systems (as defined as a collection of parts related to each others) that allows to see the forest despite the trees. Indeed, the whole has some (emergent) properties worth studying that you can’t see when only studying the parts. There’s a lot more behind this sole sentence and diverse methods to help you achieve that.

One method that I find especially visible through Mr Denning presentation of Radical Management is that of the Viable System Model by Stafford Beer. I’ve uploaded a diagram presenting what the VSM is (same letters, but different than the Lean “Value Stream Map”) behind this link.

Mr Denning’s Radical Management points #2 especially relates to the system law of requisite variety. According to this law, which is a building principle of the Viable System Model, small teams have a better chance of matching the environment’s variety than some top management up the hierarchical ladder. Hence, autonomous teams, all working under the same vision or in the same direction (as set by point #1) are a must. In this view, point #7 might be seen as a new way of interacting with teams corresponding to System 2 in charge of interactions and conflicts between autonomous systems 1 (teams).

Besides, when you have the autonomy to work the way you want, you’re more willing to improve your own work conditions than if they’re imposed on you by some management far away. That’s point #6.

Strength-based approaches to management

I’ve already covered the 7 points. Yet, although it’s not explicitely stated in the manifesto which I link at the beginning of the article, I have the feeling that the whole radical management system is somewhat more strength-based than traditional management approaches. Indeed, when you’re talking of “delighting clients” (#1), “delivering value” (#4), “openness” (#5) and “interactive conversations” (#7), you’re more likely to deal with what works and motivates people than seeking to assign blame for problems.

Conclusion

All in all, Radical Management seems to be a very good approach to management, with a nicely put combination of Lean, Systems Thinking and Strength-based approaches to management. Being from a Lean background mainly, I can only regret that of all the fantastic Lean books available, people only remember the tools part and not the management part. That’s similar to trying to use some powerful tool without reading the accompanying instructions: no wonder you end up hurting people.

So, if some management book can focus readers on improving their management skills, so far so good! We’re in desperate need of some new style of management and Radical Management, in my opinion, greatly fills the gaps.

Leader’s Guide to Radical Management & #Lean transformation

December 9th, 2010 Posted in Change, Lean, Systems Thinking Tags: , , ,

Here is a nice blog article about a book I have not read (isn’t it great? I’m talking about someone’s talk about something I have not read! Internet’s so fantastic…)

Guru Review: Leader’s Guide to Radical Management | Matthew E. May.

I relate what is said about the book to whole systems change and Donella Meadows 12 leverage points of Systems.

What it seems is said in this book is that because the goal (and even the Paradigm) of the Prisons changed, the whole system changed as a result. Of the 12 leverage point, goal changing is number #3 most efficient in changing a system and Paradigm change is even #2.

And yes, this is radical (hence the title).

Of course, when you decide to go for Lean, you enter, knowingly or not, that same kind of change.

By “doing Lean”, you can go for:

  • reducing stocks (=buffers), which is leverage point #11
  • changing the structure of stocks, leverage point #10
  • reducing delays of processes, hence feedback between beginning and end, in order to change the way the process works according to its output, leverage point #9
  • putting visual management all other the place and ensure that everybody looks at them at least once a day, to share information, leverage point #6
  • promoting problem sharing rather than fingerpointing, leverage point #5
  • empowering employees to change what needs to be changed to achieve what is expected, leverage point #4
  • changing the goal of the organization: delighting customers rather than producing widgets, leverage point #3
  • changing the paradigm of the organization: simultaneously develop employees, delight customers and reduce costs, leverage point #2

Of course, when you do Lean, you do all of the preceding points, and then more.

All parts that make Lean what it is are related to oneanother. Remove any one of them (a fortiori more than one), and the whole thing start to work less efficiently. Then, one could say the Lean is a system by and in itself. But I won’t claim it high and loud, for fear of starting a flamewar on this blog 😉

ReBlog: Avoid Creating Resistance To #Change

November 30th, 2010 Posted in Change, Systems Thinking Tags: ,

I have just stumbled upon this nice blog article: “Avoid Creating Resistance To Change – A Change Managment Tip“.

The rest of the blog features some interesting articles as well!

In short: use systems thinking, without using bad words.

The LinkedIn group “Systems Thinking World” features a number of discussions about that very same topic as well.

Why I think Lean is (also) strength-based

November 10th, 2010 Posted in Appreciative Inquiry, Change, Lean Tags: , ,

A lot of people from the strength movement (Appreciative Inquiry, Solution Focus, etc.) view Lean as a deficit-based only approach to change. I disagree. Or at least I’d like to temper this idea.

Although it’s mainly presented that way in most litterature, I do view it as a very positive approach to change. Only often the positive future is mainly in the senseï‘s head (term for a Lean coach). When “doing Lean” in an organization, what the Lean coach is trying to achieve is have people (and management) make more of what works in other organizations. That’s what so-called “Lean tools” are: demonstrated best practices principles to improve an organization. Management and collaborators should always devise their way of improving their own jobs (because that creates more engagement), it’s sometimes quicker to reuse and adapt best practices that worked elsewhere.

Lean tools (with accompanying management model) are designed to show a gap between what’s wanted (a better view of the future) and what’s currently happening. And this gap may be a deficit OR a strength as reality could be better than what was intended at the beginning. Hence, collaborators have the opportunity to detect strengths and replicate them (we call this “standardize” in Lean terms).

Now I’m not saying Lean isn’t also deficit based. It does look at under-performance and ask collaborators to solve problems but only in order to achieve excellence (very positive vision).

Of course, all that I talked about above is true when Lean is “properly” done, which means that some policy deployment (“hoshin kanri“) has been done and that all collaborators had the opportunity to imagine a better future and ways to achieve it. Though Appreciative Inquiry is not mentioned in that part of Lean, I view policy deployement as a way to Dream about a better future. The Discovery (Inquiry) part may be missing in policy deployment, but it surely is present in day to day operations (or should be, and that’s the role of management of ensuring that both problems AND strengths are discovered – problems get fixed and strengths replicated).

Oh, and strengths (or solutions to problems) need also to be discussed with other team members, so collective inquiry into improving / replicating strengths is indeed present. This is done through creation of “A3” (named after the size of the paper on which that activity is done) where a situation is collectively discussed and ways of improving it (possibly by replicating what others may be already doing) collected and shared.

To end this article, I’d like to advocate people that would like to reinforce the strength-based approach of Lean to participate in the LinkedIn group “Strength-Based Lean Thinking / Six Sigma

Mindmap: Solution Focus

November 4th, 2010 Posted in Change Tags: , ,

Out of the strength-based approaches to change, there is one which is called “Solution Focus”. Out of a book written by Paul Z Jackson and Mark McKergow, the approach focuses on finding solutions that had, are and would work to solve the problem at hand.

The typical process goes something as follow:

  • Establish a platform: convert the problem or issue to an image of what already once worked (kind of similar to Discovery of Appreciative Inquiry)
  • Future Perfect: using the miracle question, imagine the perfect future in the case where the issue disappeared overnight.
  • Scale: if 10 is Future Perfect and 1 is the opposite, where are you now?
  • Look at counters: what resources, knowledge, skills and experience from the Future Perfect is already present today?
  • Affirm: affirm current & present counters that can help you move forward.
  • Small Actions: what can you do today to move to next step (+1) on the scale and collect more counters?

I did a mindmap out of the material I found on the net and uploaded it onto BiggerPlate. Go check it out!

Mindmap : Positive Deviance Approach

November 4th, 2010 Posted in Change Tags: , ,

Positive Deviance is a strength-based approach that tries to identify people which, despite the same conditions and limitations, get to strive in a particular context and then have the community replicate their successful behaviors. Very participative, the approach uses lots of open questions and whole system involvement to help communities fix their problems byidentifying and replicating on what some of their members (the so called “positive deviants”) are doing.

The PD Initiative has some very good guides (including a Basic starting guide) available to download along with stories and other interesting resources: go check by yourself!

I just created a mindmap out of the guides available on the Positive Deviance Initiative web site and uploaded it onto BiggerPlate.

Risk of Commoditization when deploying Lean

November 3rd, 2010 Posted in Change, Lean Tags: , , ,

I’ve been thinking lately about the very low success rate of Lean turnover. Rumors has it that it’s as low as only 2% of organizations trying to transform themselves into a Lean system to successfully achieve this. Why is it so?

Apart from putting this onto top managers and other collaborators’ change resistance, I’d be thinking that people trying to introduce Lean may be the very root cause of that failure (2% success is a failure for me and the approach should be changed!).

So, being interested in Systems Thinking (all because of Michaël Ballé as I’ve tried to follow what he wrote and writes; he notably wrote “Managing with Systems Thinking“) I started to investigate using that line of thought. Which threw me into the world of archetypes and frozen situations where “the more you change, the more it’s the same” (in french: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“). The archetype that kept coming back over and over in this case was “Shifting the Burden“.

Using consultants is a bad thing

First, the archetype appears in it’s most evident form: most consultants trying to introduce Lean in organizations do so from, well, that consultant posture which more than often triggers the “Shifting the Burden” systems archetype:

The archetype is the part delimited by the bold arrows. Other arrows are decorations (additions) of mine:

  • R3 shows what the organization is missing: collaborators development that allows them to become better at doing Lean. Should the top manager conduct the Lean transformation herself, she could learn as well.
  • R4 shows that the more someone else does the work, the less one can do it oneself (hence the less one learns and the less one will be able to do it later)
  • finally, R5 shows why organizations keep contracting consultants: because they get short term results!

The problem being that since nobody usually learns during the consultants’ contracting phase (often too short for people to have learned themselves), the transformation is not sustained after the contractors leave.

Commoditizing Lean is also a bad thing

The next appearance of our Shifting the Burden archetype may not be that evident (it wasn’t for me). We often see Lean advertised as a toolbox and/or a succession of so called “kaizen workshops”. That’s what I call “commoditizing Lean”. When you select a few parts of method and turn it into something easily usable, well, you’ll make people use it. Moreover, you allow for a manager to give that commodity (or tool, or package) to a team to use it and to deploy it in the company. The consequence is that the team may learn from applying the tool, but the manager doesn’t. The team becomes the “someone else does the work”, and because it gets results, it gets management support to continue using it. Yet, in the end, should the management leave and the Lean initiative be stopped, there’s nothing left, Lean won’t be sustained.

From a constructivism point of view (Wikipedia definition: Constructivism is a theory of knowledge (epistemology) which argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from their experiences) management has not learned (and the team probably has only learned to apply the tools).

What  works

So, given that two traps into which lots of people fall (I’ve been the “someone else” myself!), what works for deploying Lean? I’m not going to be original because it’s been said before: find a coach/senseï  you (as a top manager) can work with and do what he tells you to do. You’ll learn by doing, you’ll model behavior, your people will feel appreciated and motivation for “doing Lean” should raise as a consequence.

Of all the “lean workshops” I’ve done when being the “someone else”, only two had a lasting effect after me going away. These were the workshop where middle management participated and worked to improve things along with their collaborators. I guess they probably understood some Lean things since they continued during many monthes after the workshop to visually manage their performance and solve problems to continue improvements. A great lesson for me. Alone.

There’s obviously a lot more to say, I’ll come back to that topic in other articles. Meanwhile, I’m eager to listen to your opinions on that topic, below.

Viable Systems Model useful for Change Management

It just occurs to me that Ross Ashby’s law of requisite variety as operationally described in the Viable System Model (Checkland – See my delicious links about VSM here) might be a very good model for what consultants refer to as “Change Management”.

I’m talking here of “big changes”, the kind of which that mandates communication plans, sponsor involvement, a full blown CM toolbox… and of which it is usually expected a high resistance in reaction.

The fact is that most (if not all) organizations are both hierarchical and, well, big. By big, I refer to the capacity of anyone to devise ways of implementing the change in all of the impacted parts of the organization: if no one can hold that in their mind, then it’s “big”.

Now, I can see that most Change Management approaches (try Googling it to see for yourself!) try to deploy heavy guns for big changes. That encompasses talking and listening deeply to impacted people as well as driving out fear, devising very precise and specific agendas for change adapted to the part of the organization undergoing change, etc.

My question is: what’s the point of exhausting (paying) some consultants to imagine (necessarily incomplete and unadapted) actions plans for all impacted parts of the organization, when the very same work can be better done from these parts themselves? And with more engagement since they will be involved in the work and everybody knows that we’re more willing to engage with what we’ve helped design?

Now, when one’s looking at the VSM model (open up some external picture from these links), we can imagine the purpose of the change initiative being System 5 (policy), which informs relations between System 4 (external monitoring of change conditions for instance) and system 3 (management). Then system 3, management, has the role of taking care of relations between Operational Units (Systems 1) through information brought up by System 2 (conflict management).

Using the preceding model, one can envision Management (S3) being informed of the change to be done and then “configuring” dashboards (S2) to follow attainment of the change outcome as defined in S5. The way the outcome needs to be attained is then let up to each and every  OU (all of impacted S1s). As autonomous entities (as per the VSM model), they are the ones to know best what needs to be done and how it could be best done to achieve the expected outcome.

I understand that what I’m describing above is related to “complexity management” and post-modern approaches to change. It’s mentioned in a back issue of the AI Practitioner (Appreciative Inquiry online magazine): see november 2008 introduction. You can buy that issue on the AI Practitioner web site. Now, AI is a way to involve the whole system further than what can probably be done using more traditional “policy deployement” as suggested by the VSM. But that’s another story (I’ll write on this soon).

Do you have some stories to share of “cascading change management” as described here (probably without the VSM reference!) ?

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