LeSS Systems Thinking

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Are you in a situation where events occur that require your immediate response? Do you feel like running from one event to another? Do you have the feeling that yesterday’s solutions create today’s problems? Hold on, most likely you are right!

One of the biggest problems with what we call Agile transformations is the pitfall of focussing on optimizations that are local-optimizations instead of global-optimizations. This is one of the reasons (if not the reason) to practice ‘Systems Thinking’ within LeSS transformations. Along with a colleague we started to practice Systems Thinking and Systems Modelling. Systems Modelling is an effective but hard to master tool for learning how systems work.

This year (2019) I developed and facilitated a Systems Thinking introduction workshop together with my partner (in crime) Gerard Janssen. We developed this workshop based on our own experience with Systems Thinking, including the struggles we had while practising it as well. We thought it would be very useful if not necessary to learn this skill to be able to understand the organizational systems we try to transform. But what does this have to do with being busy responding to events that occur? What does it have to do with yesterday’s solutions being today’s problems?

Well, have you ever bought a car? Ever noticed that, at that moment, everyone is driving in that particular car or brand? That if you and your partner are expecting a baby, the whole world seems to be expecting a baby? That has to do with the fact that the expected car or baby is in the active part of our brain. Unfortunately, this happens as well when events occur. We plot the occuring event on our activated, know patterns and act accordingly. But is it the best solution for or response to this particular event? We don’t know. We assume because we think we recognize the pattern, that this is the best response, but is it? Now, this is where Systems Thinking steps in. Especially the part that covers slow thinking. If we start to think slow we might come up with other responses and solutions to problems. Those solutions might be more sustainable for the long term while the initial solution might only be a solution for the short term. This way we get from discussion towards dialogue. From convincing towards learning.

Now, why is this important for LeSS transformations, or any transformation for that matter? One of the tools used within Systems Thinking is called Causal Loop Diagrams (CLD), also known as Systems Modeling within LeSS and often used during the Overall Retrospectives of LeSS. This tool is used to test our believe, our hypothesis of the improvement we like to achieve. So if we see a problem, we instinctively will respond with a solution to the problem. Now the challenge is to make sure this solution is a real solution to a real problem. By using Systems Thinking and especially Systems Modeling during a group session, one will get a better understanding of the perceived problem as well as the possible solution. This will be achieved due to the fact that we start modelling and with that, we initiate a dialogue about the different ways we look at the problem. While we do so, we learn along the way about our organizational system and its system dynamics. This learning will eventually result in better, long term sustainable solutions to problems we encounter within our organization. Adding to the global optimizations instead of local optimizations.

This alone is the reason for me to keep practising Systems Thinking, slow thinking and System Modelling with my colleagues I work with while transforming organizations into more responsive enterprises and make every change we apply a sustainable one.

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