Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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#SystemsThinking for Contemporary Challenges

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

Here is a nice blog entry at Pegasus Communication: Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges.

I quote one of the end paragraph which seems to echo very well some discussions going on LinkedIn group “Systems Thinking World” about how to increase awareness of systems thinking in the general public…

The zero-impact building session was a great segue to John Sterman from MIT, who spoke about climate change. He was critical of systems thinking practitioners who have failed to develop tools and a language that governments, leaders, and everyday citizens can use to understand the long-term consequences of their actions. He cited the example of the “bathtub”and the C-ROADS simulator as examples of systems tools that help people change their mental models, especially around issues as complex as climate change. According to Sterman, if the systems thinking community is not willing to build a new set of tools to address these large-scale challenges, then very little will change.

I started to think about doing an Appreciative Inquiry into what works for raising systems thinking awareness and then devising a plan to do more of it. Contributions are starting to come smoothly. As soon as I have synthesized them, I’ll post them on the blog.

Meanwhile, you might be interested in some great work that is available to freely raise your skills in Systems Thinking. I’ve see the following (free) resources really helpful. Feel fre to comment to add your preferred ones:

As for the “not free” resources, I’m a recent subscriber of “The Systems Thinker” PDF magazine, which I must admit is a gold mine (pun intended: Michaël Ballé, author of the Lean turnaround novel “The Gold Mine” sometimes write for this newsletter – hint, hint! :-).

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 😉

#Lean from a #SystemsThinking Point of View

December 8th, 2010 Posted in Lean, Systems Thinking Tags: , ,

I was reading one of Michael Ballé’s blog article about Lean, on Lean Edge (great web site!) and it reminded me of one of those “aha moment” I had when reading the beginning of Toyota Culture. There is described the relations between production improvement and employee development (like a double DNA spiral). Then it occurred to me that I could model this using my Systems Thinking modelling tools (here, Vensim from Ventana).

System Diagram of Lean from a Systems Thinking Point of View

Lean from a Systems Thinking Point of View

The explanation can then go something like this (of course, being circular, you can start wherever you want): by applying a Lean tool to a process, you expose some of the wastes as defined by Lean (Overproduction, Overquality, Excess motion, Excess transport, Stock, Errors, Waiting time). Exposing the wastes allows for their removal, which, by way of having people think on how to do this, develop your employees. By their increased understanding of the way the organization and Lean tools work, they become more competent at using Lean tools to expose further more waste. And so on.

One could draw lots of other systems diagrams on the effects of removing waste in an organization (I may do later on). But one can see that Lean is far more than just doing some kaizen workshops to improve something. The fact is that we can just hire some Lean consultant to tell us what to do without the burden of thinking ourselves. If the objective of the Lean program is to give short term results, it’s probably the easiest way to go. If the objective of the Lean transformation (notice the name change…) is to have sustainable continuous improvement, then there’s no better way than involve people in doing so. And it better involve management as well as frontline employees or management will end up using all employee time for production and forget about continuous improvement! I never had better long term involvement with Lean than when I had management participate in workshops (yeah, I know, I know: workshops should not be the norm, but I had no choice at that time).

I’ve already blogged about this problem of Commoditization of Lean… It’s a case of Shifting the Burden systems archetype.

Christmas dynamics

December 8th, 2010 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: ,

Christmas is approaching. Parents and relative usually buy toys for children (theirs and others). But, given the increasing revenues in developed countries and decreasing costs of toys (thanks to production outsourced to developing countries with low production costs), children often have more and more toys for Christmas.

I tried to modeled the way children usually engage with toys and the consequences for them. The diagram is provided below.

SD diagram for a fix that fails in buying more toys for children

SD diagram for a fix that fail in buying more toys for children

It goes something like that:

When provided with toys, children play with them, which directly reduces their need for new toys. But, the more toys are provided to the children, the less they can engage with them (because their attention is spread over all the toys). The less engaged they are with the toys, the more boredom they experience, which increases their need for new toys. And then, because/when parents can offer new toys, the cycle goes again, this time with even more toys provided, which on a short term allows the children to play with them, but in the longer term, further spread their attention and then will increase their boredom.

So providing a lot of toys works on the short term, but fails on the long term. This is an archetype of Fix that Fail.

What are effective strategies? The archetype proposes two of them:

  • advance planning, which would mean anticipating the situation and don’t offer too much toys
  • disconnect the unintended consequence from the action (offering toys), which would mean here to provide toys that don’t induce boredom. Maybe toys that are so versatile that each time you engage with them, they provide for something new? This might be an explanation of why Playmobil, Lego, Meccano or other dolls are so popular, even after all these years: you can create stories out of them!

I would also encourage parents not to provide too much toys to their children (and ask relatives not to compensate for that!) That’s heartbreaking for sure, but we (yes, I too have kids) need to think to their long term benefits. Didn’t your parents or grandparents talked about when they were kids and could play for hours with very few toys?

So, should we inquire into what works for the sustain enjoyment of kids, we would know the answer. How come we can hardly apply that knowledge?

ReBlog: #Lean meets #SixSigma meets Frankenstein, or show me the money!

November 30th, 2010 Posted in Lean Tags: ,

Nice article from Dan Strongin about the fact that most often, Lean and Six Sigma are not much more than tool-waving, producing local gains at the expense of global costs.

How come it’s so difficult for management to understand that people are not machines? Taylor wondered why when you buy hands, a mind is sold with them (indeed, Lean discovered years later that not only does this mind come for free, but the company has more success when you use it!). Now, it’s being said that when you buy a head, you’re given a heart for free.

Hint, hint!

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.

Lean and Systems Thinking

November 29th, 2010 Posted in Lean, Systems Thinking Tags: ,

Here is a repost of some ideas I posted in a discussion group on LinkedIn regarding Systems Thinking and Lean. I hope to say more in specific articles on this blog, but… let’s deliver some value right now and improve later! The group is Systems Thinking World. Please note that this post does not address the Vanguard Method (advertised as systems thinking mostly in UK), but systems thinking as one can discover it for instance on Gene Bellinger wonderful web site Systems Wiki.

I can read a lot of comments about Lean toolset. Lean is IMO far more than this, for waving a tool without mastering the environment where you’d like to apply it, you risk hurting someone.

Lean does not advocates systems thinking, though I personnaly feel, when “properly” applied, it helps employees and management build a holistic view of their organization. I agree that all lean tools are reductionistic. But the approach, IMO, is not.

When you start transforming your organization toward Lean (that means for me changing to the new Lean business model, not just applying tools), you need to change the whole organization, not just parts of it. Because when you start to identify the value streams across your departments, you’re considering the whole system. Then, pulling from the customer’s point of view, you need to constantly adapt to what they’re going to buy (quality, delay, costs, etc.) and the pulling impacts the whole company (or should as some people limit it to some parts of the company, which is an error for me). So, yes, Lean only applies to the closed system of the enterprise (or the extended enterprise as advocated by Womack & Jones in “Lean Solutions”), but with a strong eye on the environment so as to constantly adapt the organization to the clients (=environment). From a Viable System Model, that’s decentralizing System 4 throughout the organization.

Then, speaking of continuous improvement which is usually done using the “A3 tool”, the process mandates that the one in charge of the A3 speaks to all involved and do that by going to the real place to see things by himself. Then talk to the people, get their ideas, get their approval, and then only propose the solution for the management and for all to try & improve later. The more you “do A3”, the more you build a systemic view of your company.

Should I need to speak of hoshin kanri, where a direction is set by management and all company hierarchy levels are asked to contribute with the specifics of their respective departments? Isn’t this a description of System 5 and the way it impacts sub-systems 1 as in Viable System Model?

Why multitasking is bad for productivity (Little’s law)

November 23rd, 2010 Posted in Lean Tags: ,

Some while ago, a colleague and myself made a presentation illustrating Little’s law. That law states that the Lead time of any process (the time it takes to go through it from beginning to end) equals the number of things in that process (also known as Work In Process) divided by the mean time of the process.

That’s not really visual said this way, so here is a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation (I did the first version and a colleague of mine animated it). Enjoy!

Download file here: Illustration of Little’s law

Training Within Industry : Lean foundations, use it for teaching Systems Thinking?

November 16th, 2010 Posted in Lean, Systems Thinking Tags: , ,

I would like here to just make some quick notes about what are probably the origins of Lean (apart from Taiichi Ohno’s own ideas, of course).

First of all, there’s a great mailing-list on Yahoo: Training_Within_Industry. The list just awoken a few days ago and it’s always some great contributions. Mark Warren is the group’s main contributor as he’s regularly investigating US Defense archives to recover TWI documents.

What is TWI? Or, more precisely, what was it?

During World War II, a US agency named “War Manpower Commission” created a department called “Training Within Industry” whose objective was to devise some ways to improve manufacturing efficiency during war time. Indeed, because of most manpower being sent to the front in Europe, few people were available to run home-based plants, for civil and military production. And so it was sought for a way to train people not used to work in manufacturing plants (it is said such a population was mainly composed of women and black people). Moreover, with the lack of people and the need for increased production (some plants needing to produce both for civil and defense ends), a way to improve plants efficiency was also needed. Lastly, as management too had been sent to the front, newly appointed managers need to quickly learn how to manage people and keep good job relations. That was the basis of the TWI program.

Origins of the TWI program itself come from the work of Charles R. Allen, mainly his book “The instructor, the man and the job“.

And so the TWI service was created and devise four methods:

  • Job Instruction Training (JIT) that allows quick and efficient instruction of someone to a new job
  • Job Methods Training (JMT) that explains how to improve any job
  • Job Relations Training (JRT) that explains how to build and maintain good working relations between management and frontline operators
  • Program Development (PD) which details how to set up a training program to improve a plant efficiency, based on the first three methods (JIT, JMT, JRT).

(It should also be noted for completeness that another method was also designed: Job Union Relations Training, an adaptation of JRT for improved Unions/management relations).

I am not going to detail these methods here: they are all available on Internet (PDF scans of the original manuals – see my delicious TWI links for instance), but I just would like to note that Job Instruction is almost used word for word at Toyota for instructing new hires on their job. Also, Mark Warren created two books (related to Job Instruction) out of them after deep analysis of all available TWI documents (including internal reports). See the bookstore page on Mark Warren web site.

Now, what if we could design a way to teach some form of Systems Thinking using JIT, maybe that could ease its mainstream diffusion?

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