Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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How come #systemsthinking discussions diverge so often?

Pondering on the often out of topic discussions on the LinkedIn Group Systems Thinking World, I came up to this diagram during coffee with colleagues. I guess they’re not going to take coffee with me anytime soon :-/

As you can see, there are only reinforcing loops. The sole balancing loop is in fact preventing the initial topic from being further investigated. The explanation goes something as follow:

  • B1: when the initial topic is discussed, it triggers comments from people given their personal centers of interest, which of course, because the centers of interest are so different, this makes the discussion diverges, which reduces the focus on the initial topic.
  • R1: this first reinforcing loop describes the fact that the more there is divergence in the discussion, the more this triggers further personal centers of interest being mentioned in the discussion, which makes the discussion diverges further and thus make more people to react.
  • R2: Sometimes, someone in the discussion tries to come back to the initial topic, though, most often, through some personal path. So we have a new path which can trigger further comments from other personal topics of interest (I did not show that the new path, although related to the initial topic, could trigger other centers of interest – this is embedded in the new description of the initial topic; a case of fixe the fails, I think).
  • R3: the comments from different personal centers of interest increase the systems thinking view of things (provided there has been some initial interest, but even then, interest can be awaken), which reinforces the link to other centers of interest, which further the comments from different points of view. This loop somewhat describes the self-reinforcing curiosity of systems thinkers.
  • R4 shows the fact that these other centers of interest can also add to the divergence in the mind of the people participating in the discussion

Hopefully, some group rules are being researched that could help in maintaining a discussion going in the initial intended discussion (create a web place where regular summaries of the discussions could be posted, do some Dialogue Mapping, perhaps using InsightMaker which added this functionality just recently).

#systemsthinking view of lack of decision making from #management

January 18th, 2011 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: , , ,

I had a morning coffee discussion with colleagues about some lack of commonly decision taking occurring in companies. We proposed that it might be a cultural bias of people here not to easily trust people, but I feel the system at play could be the same for every country. Only if we would develop a more thorough model, with quantitative value, we could probably have different coefficient corresponding to different cultures.

Anyway, here is the systemic diagram I came to, which you are free to comment below, of course!

The explanations Read more »

#Lean may need real coaches at the beginning

December 14th, 2010 Posted in Change, Lean Tags: , , ,

There are things that we just do more easily when someone is doing them with us or accompanying us in order for us to do them. These are generally the not-so-sexy-things-to-do: fat-loosing-sports, medical appointment, and on a more general scale, anything that is not bringing us satisfaction on the short term. Like continuous improvement.

If it doesn’t hurt enough, you won’t change.

So you really need to be in a catastrophic situation to ponder the possibility to change (and even then… but that’s for another article).

What’s the problem?

I think we have some very experienced Lean senseïs or Lean consultants. A whole bunch of them can be seen on The Lean Edge. I know some of them and I wouldn’t call them… gentle. Experienced? Efficient? Right to the point? Definitely! But not that pushy for clients not ready to commit deeply to what Lean requires from them. These consultants are more on the style of “either you badly want it or I leave”. Which is somewhat fine since there are quite a number of people wanting to embark on the Lean journey and there are indeed very few of these consultants. Which is a way for them to filter their clients, I guess (or a form of Lean efficiency: don’t accept bad products from the preceding step in the process – the defects there being a lack of motivation to do Lean).

What we have here is a self reinforcing loop whose limit is the maximum number of clients the consultant can handle:

Lean consultant fame system dynamics diagram

Lean consultant fame system dynamics diagram

Like all growing loop, this one exhibit an exponential growth behavior:

Lean consultants fame graphic

Lean consultants fame graphic

Of course, there’s an increasing stock outside of frustrated clients that can’t be served by the famous consultants.

We also know that there are a whole lot of clients that tried Lean and failed to continue with it. We can blame the clients for not doing what Lean required of them (deep commitment). And this is in some way true and the underlying assumtion done by the famous consultants I spoke of just above (or the easy way for them to select clients). And, by coming to this conclusion, this is also the underlying assumtions of the (not as famous but still skillful) other consultants. Indeed, by accepting unmotivated clients, you get fewer results, which confirms you that your clients were unmotivated. This is indeed a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But what would happen if we’d take the assumption that the clients are willing to do Lean but need some motivation to do it before doing the real stuff?

Read more »

#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?

Risk of Commoditization when deploying Lean

November 3rd, 2010 Posted in Change, Lean Tags: , , ,

I’ve been thinking lately about the very low success rate of Lean turnover. Rumors has it that it’s as low as only 2% of organizations trying to transform themselves into a Lean system to successfully achieve this. Why is it so?

Apart from putting this onto top managers and other collaborators’ change resistance, I’d be thinking that people trying to introduce Lean may be the very root cause of that failure (2% success is a failure for me and the approach should be changed!).

So, being interested in Systems Thinking (all because of Michaël Ballé as I’ve tried to follow what he wrote and writes; he notably wrote “Managing with Systems Thinking“) I started to investigate using that line of thought. Which threw me into the world of archetypes and frozen situations where “the more you change, the more it’s the same” (in french: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“). The archetype that kept coming back over and over in this case was “Shifting the Burden“.

Using consultants is a bad thing

First, the archetype appears in it’s most evident form: most consultants trying to introduce Lean in organizations do so from, well, that consultant posture which more than often triggers the “Shifting the Burden” systems archetype:

The archetype is the part delimited by the bold arrows. Other arrows are decorations (additions) of mine:

  • R3 shows what the organization is missing: collaborators development that allows them to become better at doing Lean. Should the top manager conduct the Lean transformation herself, she could learn as well.
  • R4 shows that the more someone else does the work, the less one can do it oneself (hence the less one learns and the less one will be able to do it later)
  • finally, R5 shows why organizations keep contracting consultants: because they get short term results!

The problem being that since nobody usually learns during the consultants’ contracting phase (often too short for people to have learned themselves), the transformation is not sustained after the contractors leave.

Commoditizing Lean is also a bad thing

The next appearance of our Shifting the Burden archetype may not be that evident (it wasn’t for me). We often see Lean advertised as a toolbox and/or a succession of so called “kaizen workshops”. That’s what I call “commoditizing Lean”. When you select a few parts of method and turn it into something easily usable, well, you’ll make people use it. Moreover, you allow for a manager to give that commodity (or tool, or package) to a team to use it and to deploy it in the company. The consequence is that the team may learn from applying the tool, but the manager doesn’t. The team becomes the “someone else does the work”, and because it gets results, it gets management support to continue using it. Yet, in the end, should the management leave and the Lean initiative be stopped, there’s nothing left, Lean won’t be sustained.

From a constructivism point of view (Wikipedia definition: Constructivism is a theory of knowledge (epistemology) which argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from their experiences) management has not learned (and the team probably has only learned to apply the tools).

What  works

So, given that two traps into which lots of people fall (I’ve been the “someone else” myself!), what works for deploying Lean? I’m not going to be original because it’s been said before: find a coach/senseï  you (as a top manager) can work with and do what he tells you to do. You’ll learn by doing, you’ll model behavior, your people will feel appreciated and motivation for “doing Lean” should raise as a consequence.

Of all the “lean workshops” I’ve done when being the “someone else”, only two had a lasting effect after me going away. These were the workshop where middle management participated and worked to improve things along with their collaborators. I guess they probably understood some Lean things since they continued during many monthes after the workshop to visually manage their performance and solve problems to continue improvements. A great lesson for me. Alone.

There’s obviously a lot more to say, I’ll come back to that topic in other articles. Meanwhile, I’m eager to listen to your opinions on that topic, below.

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