Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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#Lean is hard on processes in order to be soft on people

October 11th, 2011 Posted in Lean, Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

After yesterday diatribe on the people side of improvement, it occurred to me this morning that when doing Lean management, what we work with are mainly processes, not people; at least not directly.

“Hard on problems, soft on people” is indeed an often cited quote in Lean culture.

Lean is based on a coaching culture where the coaches are the managers (“teach, don’t tell” is another Lean quote). Yet, you can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to (whatever his/her [good or bad] reason).

So, the process is used as a pretext for that coaching. In an organization that needs to make benefits, improving efficiency is something well understood from employees. Yet, it’s hard (if not impossible) to come toward people and tell them how they should work better, because:

  • it’s disrespectful (and Lean is based on Respect for People!)
  • it’s presumptuous unless you did their job before and preferably not long time ago
  • and even if not long ago, you’d be served a well-merited “why didn’t you do it yourself when on the job”?
  • you don’t have requisite variety, meaning a manager can’t know the details of how to do each and every job he’s supposed to manage
  • and finally, it goes against what Lean management teaches us: having employees learn. If you tell, they don’t learn. Period.

So, even if you know how to do it better, you shouldn’t say it. And so you focus on the processes instead. Because by improving processes, you squeeze problems out of them, which means food for thought for your employees, which they will solve because it’s their job (not yours as a manager!), which will improve further the process and make it all the more sensitive to more subtle problems.

So is the virtuous circle of Lean.

(The vicious circle of traditional management is all too common: no problem solving, thus more problems, more firefighting, less time to solve anything, and more problems, leading to people leaving the company, new hires, less experience of the current situation and so further less problem solving). I wrote about it here: Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems that Never Happened (Creating & Sustaining Process Improvement).

How often do you focus on the processes instead of only the results of them?

#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 »

#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).

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 »

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…

Carl Rogers concepts #mindmap: a reminder of coaching attitude for #change and #Lean #management

I’ve just uploaded a mindmap out of material I’ve scouted on the net: Carl Rogers concepts MindManager Map.

I find Carl Rogers position toward people very interesting and something terribly necessary to have in mind when considering changing organizations (either using Lean or Systems Thinking), because it reminds us that:

  • things did not occurred out of nothing
  • the system (organization) is perfectly adapted to do what it does (hence the difficulty of changing it)
  • everything currently being done makes sense to the people working inside the system

It reminds me of that Socrates quote: “All I know is that I know nothing“.

All of this is highly impregnated of Systems Thinking stuff: people adapt to their environment (the system around them), which allows them to change it for their own purpose, which will retro-act on themselves. It concludes that people are adapted to the variety of the system around them and, corolarly, that someone outside of the system can’t have the requisite variety. So it’s a necessity to be unconditionnally accepting of the collaborators.

Also, because a change is perceived as a threat (whether consciously or not), a perfectly safe environment must be set up (between the coach and the manager or the manager and the employees) for the new experience to be integrated and make sense of. This environment mwill be in the relationships established between employees and their management.

 

#Change Resistance as viewed from a #systemsthinking point of view

Thinking to that well talked about subject (232,000 results in google for “Chance Resistance” – quoted included), I decided to give it a shot… The result if the image below (click on it to zoom it).

Systems Dynamics view of Change resistance

Systems Dynamics view of Change resistance

You start in the upper right corner: there a change needed and a suspected resistance to change from the system that needs to be changed. So, the change plan is devised without too much involving the soon-to-be impacted people, to avoid raising their resistance to change. The result, once the change plan is rolled on, is double: a lack of requisite variety of the plan to the impacted people and their local situation and a feeling that everything’s been already decided. Both feelings generate some form of resistance (active in the first case, passive in the second, a form of hopelessness). They add up to form an actual change resistance. This actual resistance then confirms the supposed change resistance and also the measures taken to prevent further resistance.

In the end, this is a nice reinforcing loop or self-fulfilling prophecy.

What can be done to it? Well, a short answer could be to kill the loop by not assuming that there is resistance to change AND do whatever is necessary not to raise this resistance:

  • involve soon-to-be impacted people as early as possible so they can own the process
  • and involve them so they can adapt the required change to their specific variety so that the change is assured to be will fitted to the system to be change

Don’t be afraid of change resistance: just don’t awake it yourself!

 

Kurt Lewin model of #change and #Lean management

Traditional change models

Kurt Lewin has devised a change model known as “unfreeze-change-freeze“: clever as it is (by highlighting the fact that before changing, there’s a necessary step required to unlock the current status quo), it may not be quite adapted to Lean management as people need to indeed be in constant change when doing Lean and constantly identify new ways of improving things: so the “freeze” part is not what is expected from people in a Lean environment. Initiating a change approach would mean to start to “unfreeze-change-change-change-change-…” or, as most Lean expert would tell you: “unfreeze-change-unfreeze-change-unfreeze-change-…”

The ADKAR model of change is better to this respect because it insists on the need to reinforce the new behavior. Yet, the aspect of diffusing the change throughout the company where it could apply (process known in Lean under the name “yokoten“) and constantly improving upon it (through constant change to the “standard”) is not addressed.

Underlying mental models

There has been some implicit mental models at play in these two kind of change models (other change models feature the same underlying mental models):

  • that you can decide of a change and impose it on collaborators (lack of respect for people) or worse, on a system (worse because the system will resist it) – the Lewin model may be the worst with this respect;
  • that you can invest in the change and once it’s done, you can move on to something else: some change models even advocate for burning the bridges to move back to before (again, flagrant lack of respect for people).
  • and, worse of all (in my mind at least!) that people are dumbly resistant to any change.

For this last point, the ADKAR model tries to address this by Describing the change to impacted people: better than nothing, but still a form of coercion (or intellectual extorsion).

Changing one’s own mental models about change

When you get rid of clinging to these mental bonds, you can discover a whole new world where people are indeed attracted to change, provided it helps them and their customers. The key word here may well be “and“. Moreover, to ensure that the change is indeed what is really needed, management also has to get rid of its role of general problem solver in place of collaborators: that just removes the fun out of the work from those doing it and deprives them from any intellectual challenge, again, a lack of respect of people.

 

Scientific method illustration

Scientific method from http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/scientific-experiments/scientific-method6.htm

 

In this sense, Lean is very postmodern in its approach to change in that it moves well away from Taylorism and gives back the key to change to the very people doing the work. Even the need to change is given back to collaborators: one would not change something that needn’t; again, only those doing the work can decide about the necessity to change. I’d even dare to say that Lean may well be post-postmodern in its approach to collaborators and change in that it just doesn’t move from a blissful consideration of collaborators (as I’m sure some see postmodernism in organizations) but keeps the link with the modern approach and use of the scientific method (through the rigorous use of Plan-Do-Check-Act and fact based approach to improvements). A very nice blend of modernism and post-modernism.

What’s required for postmodern changes

Last point, this new way of seeing change is very different in that it requires constant monitoring of the need to change and the application of the scientific method to assess the effect of current change. And, the big learning here is: without constant investment in continuous improvement, it just won’t be… well continuous. That means that management, at all levels of the organization, needs to constantly invest time and efforts in challenging current status quo and encourages their collaborators to look for the need to change and what to change to, for the triple benefit of the customers, themselves and the company (a result of the two preceding benefits).

If one would look to the (unactionable) root cause of inertia, it would probably be found in the “bounded rationality” of human mind. Yet, knowing this, one has to constantly invest in fighting it, using the most intelligent means for that: constant monitoring of the environment and whether the organization is well adapted to it and, counterpart, whether it needs to change to adapt to it or not. By now, you’ve probably see where I end up: with the concept of requisite variety and the proper design of viable organizations. Topic for another article…

Some old wise man said that’s it’s a shame to see so many people wanting others to change and so few willing to change themselves. Gandhi himself told us that we need to be the change we want to see in the world.

Managers need to embody the change they want to see in their teams. First.

 

 

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