Today’s problems come from yesterday’s ‘solutions.’” 5th Discipline, Peter Senge.

Systems thinking is the foundation of Flow, Lean, and the Theory of Constraints. The essence of systems thinking is that a system is not merely the sum of its components but rather reflects the relationship between the components. For example, a car is not merely a collection of tires, an engine, transmission, etc., on a chassis but rather the relationship between these.

Consider taking the best parts of the best cars and putting them together. You wouldn’t have a car – you’d have a pile of junk.“Car” -ness results from how the parts of a car work together.

There are a few other critical concepts involved here. A change to one part of a system can affect other parts. But not just one on one. It can affect how other parts of the system affect even other parts.  Sometimes these interactions are clear. Sometimes they are not. While we can understand these interactions with cars, in other systems, we cannot. We call these complex interactions. The presence of these interactions is why many systems are complex. It is often impossible to tell what change one aspect of a system will have with all the interrelationships present.

Systems can be thought of as a combination of known, well-defined relationships and those that involve complex interactions.  Amplio@Teams will directly discuss how to improve knowledge work by attending to the known, well-defined relationships. It will deal with the complex interactions by showing how quick feedback cycles can mitigate challenges arising from the non-linear events during development. Non-linear events are when a small action results in a significant impact. The “straw that broke the camel’s back” is an iconic example. While we often hear of disasters occurring due to complexity, we have more control over what is happening in knowledge work. This enables us to decouple the effect of complex events and avoid disaster or wasted effort.

A very salient aspect of systems thinking is that the system people are in causes almost all the errors and waste. It’s easy to attribute bad behavior to individuals, but it’s more likely that the system they are in is causing the problems.

An important distinction

Creating new products is a complex endeavor. However, there is no need for the work methods we use to be complex. This is an important insight that is often lost.

Essential Lessons of Systems Thinking:

  • Systems are more about the relationships between their components than the components themselves
  • Systems are comprised of other systems and interact with systems outside of themselves
  • Local changes to a system cause global, sometimes unpredictable, side effects.
  • Most of the challenges we encounter are due to our system.

First Principles, Mindsets/ Values, Promises, and Guidance

Experience teaches nothing. In fact, there is no experience to record without theory… Without theory, there is no learning… And that is their downfall. People copy examples, and then they wonder what is the trouble? They look at examples, and without theory, they learn nothing. W. Edwards Deming

First Principles (Flow, Lean, Theory of Constraints)

First  principles are those principles that can’t be decomposed into other principles but stand on their own. They should apply universally or at a minimum, have the context in which they apply be stated. The first principles stated here apply virtually everywhere in knowledge work. Flow, Lean, and the Theory of Constraints help understand the cause and effect present in knowledge work. Here are some fundamental principles:

  • Delays cause additional work to be done due to slow feedback and degradation of information
  • Too much work in process causes delays that cause waste
  • Handoffs cause loss of knowledge and information
  • People working on too many things will cause delays
  • Components of systems interact. Improving one aspect of a system may adversely affect others so that the overall system’s performance will worsen.

Underlying Mindset and Values

Our mindset and values filter what we notice. This is often called ‘cognitive bias.’ It is essential to continue questioning our mindset and ensure it’s helping us.

  • Take a systems thinking point of view.
  • Assume you are working in a complex system and attend to the symptoms of complexity (lack of visibility and potentially non-linear events)
  • Have an attitude of doing things just-in-time
  • Focus on the delivery of value to the customer
  • Continuously improve your mindset by using both double and triple-loop learning
  • Have a positive attitude towards management. If they are not cooperating, ask yourself what they do not see and then provide that to them. Notice how this requires improving their understanding.
  • Respect people
  • Those close to the work usually have the best understanding of what needs to be done
  • Have those close to the work make decisions, but provide them with the information they need to make good decisions
  • Attend to and mitigate risk
  • Use metrics to see if you are progressing in the right direction
  • Recognize that work is not complete until the customer has received value from it.
  • Make learning a habit

Go to Amplio@Teams: The Path to Effective Lean-Agile Teams

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