B1. Systems

systems-index-pictureWe should all understand what a ‘system’ is and why applying this knowledge is so important and powerful.

“A system is a network of inter-dependant components that work together to try to accomplish the aim [purpose] of the system” (W. Edwards Deming)

“When a system is taken apart, it loses its essential properties…A system is not the sum of the behaviour of its parts. It is the product of their interactions.” (Russell Ackoff)


Post Title: Summary ‘teaser’: Month Published:
Harmony or cacophony Ackoff’s ‘Systems’ talk and Deming’s Orchestra example: For a system to work effectively, it needs all of its parts to work together…which requires the removal of all management practises that hinder co-operation. Dec 2014
D.U.M.B On S.M.A.R.T objectives: Splitting an organisation’s purpose into cascaded personal objectives will not deliver the intended outcome and will cause competition between the components…the whole is far more than the sum of the parts. Jan 2015
Water water everywhere UK flooding example: to explain about component-level thinking and the harm this can cause to the overall system. Dec 2015
Oversimplification The Law of requisite variety: “Make everything as simple as possible, and no simpler” Mar 2016
‘Beyond Budgeting’: There is a better way What to do instead of Budgets? A systems thinking response. May 2016
So you think you’ve got a problem! Russell Ackoff on ‘problems’: The four possible treatments for a problem and the difference between a problem and a mess. Jun 2016
Lost in translation Deming’s 14 points for management – unadulterated, with comments…NOT ‘made palatable’ to fit in with the narrative of the current management system. Jul 2016
Oh…so that’s why ‘Command and Control’ doesn’t work very well! An organisation can be thought of as a ‘system’…but it’s much more than that: it’s important that we understand system types and then apply the appropriate management model. Using the wrong model causes immeasurable waste and loss of value…but getting it right is to liberate all of us and create a wonderful and successful place to work. Jul 2016
The gift that keeps on giving ‘Systems thinking’ – items 8 & 9: So I wrote this as a bit of a sanity check, a laugh if you will. Jul 2016
“Why is your proposed change so profound?” So, what do the All Blacks, the English Rugby Team…and Wrexham football club all have in common?

Well. they all fit into this post that explains about systems, the three different kinds of levers available for improvement, and (most importantly) their likely effect.

Nov 2016
It’s complicated!… or is it? Do you hear the ‘complexity word used a lot?...and if you do:
  • is it being given a bad name?
  • are actions being proposed to attack it wherever it is to be found?
  • are ‘simplification’ victories being claimed?

Perhaps there’s more to it than this (overly) simple narrative…

Dec 2016
“Citizens face many front doors…” A link to, and write up of, an excellent Jeremy Cox presentation about studying demand across public services. Jun 2017
Hard, Soft…or Laminated? Peter Checkland: A walk through the history of systems thinking, and the importance of softening it. Mar 2018
A thimble of goodness within a sea of chaos Nearly all of us press ‘like’ when we see an article about plucky ocean clean up initiatives…but what effect do they actually have? What’s happening in the wider system? Aug 2018
“I’m confused…what are we doing?” A ‘compare and contrast’ between Agile and Systems Thinking. Sep 2018
Coming out of lock-down with eyes wide open COVID-19: Thinking systemically about what’s happening and how we should be thinking about it. Apr 2020