Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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Are You a Sheet or Shelf Thinker? #Lean and #Vanguard

Here is a nice article from Quality Digest author Tripp Babbitt: Are You a Sheet or Shelf Thinker?

I’m not an expert in the Vanguard method, though I recognize it’s an interesting approach and one that focuses on the real place (gemba).

What Tripp mentions in his article is that people trying to improve  should first go and see the place first before trying to do something. And most of all, not blindcopying tools used elsewhere.

What would be the consequences of using tools? Well, pick in the following list, but chances are that all apply:

  • the tool might not be adapted to the actual situation under consideration (from a systems thinking point of view, we would say it does not have “requisite variety”)
  • the tool didn’t grow out of the people’s mind in the actual place. As a consequence, their mind is not acquainted to it: this is how we tag people as being “change resistant”, when the change agent is in fact “people resistant” (or a tool head)
  • applying the tool steal the thinking and the corresponding learning of their own place of the people whom you’re about to subdue with it. What kind of respect in this?
  • trying to apply a tool to a situation which you’re not an expert of (because this actual situation is as different as the other one where you took the tool from just because people are different, along with the environment, organization, etc. Different variety, that is) will make you look arrogant and pretending you have the requisite variety (false, of course). Moreover, who said you had requisite variety with respect to the place you took the tool from? Where you an expert there anyway? If yes, you’re not an expert here. If no, that doesn’t make you an expert here and now either.

The Lean coach should make his own this quote from Socrates: “I know that I know nothing“.

Do you?

 

#Lean and #SystemsThinking: Jeff Liker: Resist your machine thinking! The Lean Edge

Here is an article from renowned Jeffrey Liker about Lean and Systems Thinking.

Jeff Liker: Resist your machine thinking! » The Lean Edge.

To be adapted to your changing environment, you need to constantly adapt your system to it so it features that requisite variety as requested by its environment to achieve the desired purpose. If you don’t, your system’s variety will less and less be adapted to that of its environment, and thus its performance will degrade over time.

 

#Lean historical document: #TWI Complete program for a plant

In the myriad of documents produced by the TWI during World War 2, there’s a one page synthesis of what a “TWI Complete program for a plant” ought to be (you can see this document in the files section of the Yahoo TWI discussion group).

What’s important to me in this document is that it highlights some key points about the specific roles of TWI and Plant Management in implementing the TWI training programs.

I get a lot of insights in these documents about why lean may not stick in today’s organizations and how we could change this (indeed, the way TWI devised their management contact procedures would behelpful for any kind of change program!). Of course, the context is really different nowadays than during war 60 years ago, but these points still are important. They probably are even more important now than formerly in order to secure change because current context may not be seen as urgent.

The aforementioned document has three parts, of which I’m only quoting the first and the last:

  1. What T.WI.I does
  2. What the TWI programs are (not quoted here)
  3. What the plant does

What T.W.I. does

  • Present TWI complete program – to top management
  • and Demonstrates program methods – to middle management
  • Starts program in the plant – for first level management
  • Checks program results – with all levels of management

What’s striking me in this section is that all levels of management get a chance to acquaint themselves with TWI programs. By this, one can ensure that:

  • top management knows what it’s all about (eases sponsoring)
  • middle management deeply knows what it is (prevents resistance and eases sponsoring)
  • results are followed at all levels to ensure that the TWI programs are kept on top of the stack in management’s head

What the plant does

  • Top management – authorizes programs and plans use (accepts training as an operating function at all levels. Designates […] coordinator)
  • Middle management – Promotes understanding and gives support (arranges convenient schedules for employee coverage)
  • First-level management – Starts training in basic supervisor skills (improves supervisory skills by continuiing use – Follow-through)
  • All levels of management – Check production results

Here, we can see that TWI fostered deep commitment from top management. Not only did the programs were sold, TWI also got top management to understand and take action to recognize that training was indeed part of management job in operating functions. Also, with a coordinator designated by top management, the work can continue without taking too much time of the sponsor, avoiding the risk of him getting upset by constant dragging into programs details.

Next, middle management, often being seen as a source of (change) resistance is here given an active role in supporting and planning the program. This is a way to both appeal to every management person’s will to help others (something I’m deeply convinced: people do want to contribute to others and to something bigger than themselves) and to ensure that the program is well fitted to each and every specifics of all departements of the company. Nobody’s overlooked in the process and everybody gets a change to contribute. From a systems thinking point of view, one could say that TWI complete program for a plant had requisite variety!

As for first-level management, it is clearly stated that their role will be to put the programs in continuiing use (for there is no results otherwise). There are other TWI documents related to how Follow-Through is supposed to be done.

And lastly, all levels of management need to check production results. That’s not a check of how many people were trained, but really a check of what kind of production improvements were done by way of TWI programs: increased production, man-hours saved, reduction in training time – tool breakage – scrap – grievances. So, in the end, it should be clear in everybody’s head that TWI helps solve production problems, as defined and viewed by all management levels in the company.

(The document is dated February 10, 1944, so it’s not modern rocket science!)

I hope this review of one of TWI documents will shed light on their training program efficiency and that you took some ideas home for improving your own change and lean programs.

I plan to comment on other TWI documents, so stay tuned!

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.

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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