Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems that Never Happened (Creating & Sustaining Process Improvement) #Lean paper #stwg

Here’s a fundamental paper that explains some of the difficulties of introducing and sustaining Lean in companies, from a Systems Thinking (Systems Dynamics to be more precise) point of view.

The paper has been authored by John Sterman and Nelson Repenning and is available here.

The paper’s very didactic and takes the reader by the hand into building the diagram step by step.

#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?

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?


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…

“The collapse of belief” a #systemsthinking and mental models explanatory ebook

I’ve stumbled upon this very nice booklet that explains all that there is to know about mental models or beliefs: how they constrain us, how they are difficult to identify and how we can change them or just get rid of them.

A very nice read for anybody in the change business (Lean, Appreciative Inquiry, Solution Focus, Systems Thinking…)

“The Collapse of Belief – Rethinking Your Thinking Within a Different Tomorrow” by Kurt and Barbara Hanks.

Through what lens (belief) do you see the world?

Autonomy dynamic model (#systemsthinking from @doingwhatworks article)

SD Analysis of Autonomy

SD Analysis of Autonomy

Reading Coert Visser’s blog post “People prefer to choose for themselves what they initiate and they want to control as much as possible what they do“, I decided to give it a shot at modelling what comes to my mind using my preferred tool of choice: Vensim.

The first analytical thinking through a problematic autonomy situation would be that people’s desire and actions to increase their autonomy is motivated by Others’ action. “Their faulty behavior against me motivates and authorizes my reacting to it“.

Of course, from the view point of others, the same thing happen with us (‘A‘ in the attached diagram).

So, although each actions from A or other tend to reach an equilibrium toward one’s own autonomy desired level (loops B1 and B2), the connection between actions (center of picture, R1) creates an overall reinforcing dynamical structure where A and Others are competing for their autonomy levels. In the end, it’s more than probable that all will loose: a typical loose-loose situation resulting from a “win-loose” mental model.

So, I added, as a proposed solution, that an overall external loop (in dotted lines on the diagram) be added where A and Others exchange on their similar desire to achieve some autonomy, and do listen to and respect the corresponding desire of the partner. In doing so, they might lower their desired autonomy level but in the mean time counter balance the negative and reinforcing loop of their action and we could hope that they reach some form of win-win equilibrium.

That solution can only exist if Dialogue is possible between A and Others.

How are you communicating about problematic situations in your organization? Do you talk them through or do you complain, finger point to one another and stick to phone and mail to fire reactive actions to one another?


“A model of success” from @doingwhatworks (#systemsthinking )

Success to the Successful systems archetype wikimedia commonsCoert Visser, again, gives some interesting insights with regards to self-reinforcing feedback of success and virtuous circles of the kind in his blog article: DOING WHAT WORKS: A model of success.

I’d like to also point to the Systems Thinking / Dynamics archetype of Success to the Successful (click on the CLD link to see a schematic representation) where, once someone achieve a result, he gets more visibility and maybe more resources to continue its successes, to the detriment of possibly others.


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