Appreciating Systems

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Might #problemsolving be our civilization’s root cause of the #collapse to come?

Problem solving, RCA (root cause analysis), continuous improvement, Lean management, all in order to study the problem, and find a fix for it… sounds the best way to progress, right? Hell, we even have ISO norms like ISO 9001 for it! Plan your actions, Do an experiment, Check the results, and Adjust upon deviations found. In itself, that PDCA or Shewart/Deming improvement circle doesn’t sound bad. Indeed, evolution thrives on it:

  • Plan is what’s your genetic material and your sociological background tells you to do (through language when it comes to humans)
  • Do is well, living
  • Check is when feedback is felt (more on this later)
  • Adjust is when learning occurs and living creatures adapt to the change

So, what’s wrong with it? Well, I think the wrong happens under the radar, but first in the Check step (indeed, PDCA starts at Check… I’ve read about that some years ago but can’t find the reference, sorry). It’s a systemic issue, and one that wouldn’t occur if we accepted to move to second order cybernetics / systems thinking.

In the 1st order cybernetics or systems thinking (or cybernetics), there’s an observer, and an observed, and no link, no influence (except for the decided) between them.

In 2nd order cybernetics, the observer considers the self to be part of the system and its perspective / world view / weltanschauung about it having an influence on the “observed”.

When you’re still in the 1st order of thinking, it’s all the most easy to fall in the trap of thinking the observed is “wrong” (with respect to what you would like it to be) and “fix” it by some intervention. Indeed, that brought civilization to where it is today with all our science and technology, arts, philosophy, etc. But it also brought with it environmental exhaustion, pollution and peak everything (eg. peak minerals)…

In 2nd order cybernetics, one recognizes that one’s own (preconceived) perspective on anything shapes the perception of that very thing it is observing. As a consequence, perceiving a problem in an observed might be more revealing on a “problem” in the mind of the observer than in reality. Indeed, Nature doesn’t have problems. Nature *is* and evolves on its own. It’s the perception of a problem and the desire to fix it that tampers with the natural cycles of nature and most often than not creates more unintended consequences (though at a later time), for which a new cycle of “problem solving” will need to be done.

So, the 1st order way of doing the Check is searching for an external (to self) source of the problem, consequently followed by an external search of a solution, or “fix” to that very (external) problem, at its perceived (external) root cause.

Indeed, in 2nd order cybernetics, one would ponder how is it that we are seeing a problem in the first place… and then stop doing what’s causing it. The Check thus turns its inspection toward self and becomes introspection. Consequently, the Adjust begins to see a different way of behaving, in such a way that it doesn’t trigger negative feedbacks.

Does it have something to do with deficit-based change versus strength-based change? Not necessarily. One can decide to seek the positive, what worked (like previous acts on the observed rather than on oneself) because it did have apparent beneficial effects, but without considering that it might have future unintended consequences.

Permaculture, for instance, is, IMHO, both a strength-based approach to change AND an intrinsic way of changing (do we need to design a new word for it? Does one already exist? Please tell me in the comments). Permaculture seeks to stop detrimental living practices (housing, agriculture, health, economy, etc.) and instead, change its practitioners’ behaviors to be more in line with what Nature does already, or to step by step (PDCA!) approach Nature’s way of doing things.

A proposal for a new #Complexity- and #Strength- based #PDCA (for #Lean or else)

Thinking during commute the other day (should I have to live nearer my work, I’d be much more dumb!) I pondered how a better strength-based Plan Do Check Act loop could look like.

I find the current version of PDCA to be a bit too deficit-based and tainted of Command & Control. All too often we see managers or project managers deciding on a plan in their offices and rolling it over employees, without much consideration about what would work for them (they’re the ones with their two feet in the daily work, so they should know best). Sure, if you’re doing nemawashi, this doesn’t concern you. But not everybody does it, yet.

So, since we’re speaking more and more about complexity (hmmm, Google Trends on complexity is making me a liar it seems – a construction of mine?)… anyway, I came up with the following new version:

  • Connect ideas of different people: who are they? what are their strengths? What ideas do they have? Aspirations? Opportunities they see? Results they expect?
  • Select ideas that you (collectively) would think are the more interesting to try?
  • Effect these ideas: go to the gemba and put them to the test of work. Measure heavily what happens of course (People side: does it enhance the work experience? Quality? Delays? Costs?)
  • Reflect on what happened: what did you learn? What new opportunities do you now see? What hopes does this give you? What else?

PS: well, at least the Cynefin  framework is trending more 😉









Strength-based #PDCA (#lean)

Lean is traditionally viewed as being problem-focused. That is, it works on problems to solve in order to improve efficiency. The core of Lean management is Shewart‘s cycle or the infamous Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Deming cycle.

Yet, I posit that Lean is indeed also very strength-based when “done properly” (that is, it’s LEAN not LAME – Lean As Mistakenly Executed). There’s a LinkedIn discussion group on Strength-based Lean Six Sigma which I encourage you to follow if you’re interested in the subject. I hope to write about this as well on this blog. Later.

What I’d like to ramble on today is on what the basis for a strength-based Lean could be. First of all, I must explain the difference between strengths-based and solution-focused:

  • Strength-based is about doing something by focusing on people’s strengths rather than focusing on their deficiencies or their problems. The strengths movement mainly came out of the CSV handbook (check what your strengths are on VIA for free!) though other companies devised their own list of strengths (Gallup or Clifton’s Strengthsfinder for instance).
  • Solution-focus is about identifying behaviors that worked in the past (or work in the present) and use them again. It’s not really about replicating a (technical) solution that worked in the past (though that could be the case. Yet, in Lean, standards are supposed to be your company’s best practices, so there’s no point in looking for solutions elsewhere).

So, what would a strength-based PDCA look like? Rather than giving directions, I’d like to propose some questions for each step that should elicit responses from people based on their strengths. or what worked for them. It’s a blend of Solution focus and Strength-based questions with a bit of Appreciative Inquiry in the beginning.

Plan

  • What works well in this job?
  • What first attracted you to this job?
  • What makes you “tick” about it?
  • Apart from this job, what do you love to do?
  • What do you think you are good at?
  • What would your friends and co-workers say about what you’re good at?
  • What are your wildest dreams for this job?
  • What three wishes do you have for this job?

Do

  • What are you willing to do about this job?
  • What behaviors of yours have you seen successful in helping changing something you care of?
  • How are you going to approach what you want to do about this job?
  • What needs to be true (preliminary steps) for your wildest dreams for this job to come true?
  • What are the next physical concrete action that you need to do to advance on these preliminary steps?

Check

  • Where are you on your path to achieve your plans?
  • What worked? How did you notice?
  • What have you done that made it work?
  • How are you going to continue measure progress?
  • What next?

Act

  • What have you learned from what worked?
  • What have you learned from what you did that made it work?
  • How are you going to use that again with what’s left do to?
  • What do you know now that you couldn’t before taking action? What might be further on the road?
  • What new opportunities does it bring for your plans for the future? How are you going to improve your plans, then?

There’s so much to say about strength-based Lean and how you really can put the “respect for people” first in your Lean management so that your work experience skyrockets…









May certainty help #PDCA and #Lean?

January 27th, 2011 Posted in Lean, Systems Thinking Tags: , , , , , ,
It occurred to me that uncertainty may hinder continuous improvement because it prevents action.

Consequently, people who are somewhat certain of their opinions are more willing to act and thus experiment and learn which are two root causes of improvement.

Of course, that implies that certain people are also willing to admit their errors when they act and things don’t happen as they expected. This is the purpose of Checking one’s actions and Adjusting if things went wrong (as in Shewhart/Deming‘s Plan-Do-Check-Adjust PDCA). (When things go well, it’s then time to turn the action into a new standard and diffuse it to whoever might benefit from it – in Lean, this is yokoten.)

Socrates said that you need to act to know if you’re right or not, for if you don’t act you’ll never know.

So, make up your mind, decide and act!

But always remember that you should be knowing just one thing: that you never know (until you act!)









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