A recent addition: An index!

Alphabetized organizing filing system, close-up. Shot in studio with Phase One.

So it’s been a little over two years since I started this blog and I’ve now published well over 100 posts. So many that I forget what I’ve actually written about!

If I’m looking for something particular in my, ahem, ‘back catalogue’ (which is often the case), then how do I go about finding it?

Well, by a few routes:

  • I have tried to add links in each new post to relevant past posts…but this has become harder to achieve;

and if you scroll down the right hand side of the blog you will find:

  • a search box…but you kind of need to know the name of what you are looking for (easier for me…but ‘mind games’ for you);
  • the ‘tag cloud’…but, whilst this is good, it doesn’t show everything; and
  • an archive list (by month published)…but this is to play a game of chronological ‘pot luck’.

You can see then that there’s a few ways to attempt to find things…but none of them are very good, let alone complete!

Therefore, in the spirit of improvement, I have added an index, structured around two key models:

  • Study: “how the work works” (Seddon’s Check model); and
  • Intervention: “how to change it” (Deming’s Theory of Profound Knowledge).

Each of these models is then broken down into categories within.

If you are interested in exploring around the complete set of posts published to date (whether in general, or for something in particular) then I hope you find it of use 🙂

Example: If you want to focus on, say ‘measurement’ then you can go to the set of posts that deal with this area

I’ve even tried to be clever and (through the help of WordPress help forums1 🙂 ) created model diagrams with selectable (i.e. ‘clickable’) regions within – as a self confessed technophobe I’ve surprised myself!…but of course it might not work for you!(?)

You will find the index in the top right of the blog:

index

…have an explore, ‘click around’ and see what you make of it.

So…going forward:

Every time I publish a post I will add it to the relevant region of the index.

Feedback on how this index works out for you will be much appreciated…and any other suggestions for improvements are most welcome.

Bonus…

Oh yes…and just in case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve recently added two very worthy giants to my list: Jay Forrester and Donella Meadows.

Merry Christmas/ Happy New Year/ Good wishes whatever your particular (non)‘theist’ or ‘calendar’ variety is.

Footnote

1. I used the following site to create the code for mapping regions of each model (as suggested to me by Timethief ):      http://www.isdntek.com/tagbot/imap.htm

 

 

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Why I dislike…

maturity-model…(so called) ‘maturity models’.

You know the ones I mean:

They are drawn up with an answer already in mind…and there’s seemingly one ‘out there’ for every ‘silver bullet.’

They are broken into:

  • a supposed linear 1 to 5 scale; and
  • neat horizontal swim lanes of supposedly important sub-categories.

The wording to articulate each point on the scale is contrived to work for the author’s intent. They start off as ‘black’ on the left (obviously undesirable), finish as ‘white’ on the right (i.e. heavenly) and go through a torturous swamp of grey in-between.

The people involved in designing and then scoring ‘our position on’ the scale are ‘in management’ (often assisted by some external consultants)…with little or no (meaningful) inclusion of the front line or customers i.e. those that would actually know about reality.

Scoring is performed based on opinions (perhaps in workshops, or via surveys), not the facts at the gemba.

Each team employing such a maturity scale is miraculously1 led to self-score themselves somewhere between a 1 and 2 at the start.

Management then use this ‘shocking’ score to justify the investment in a transformation programme (often given a name that is dripping in propaganda). Such a programme contains a wondrous set of initiatives to move2 the organisation from a ‘1.5’ score, up to a target3 score of ‘5′.

…and finally, each organisation stops once they reach a (self declared) ‘4’, saying that this is how far they need to go – a 5 now being seen as somehow no longer important. They stop because everyone’s got bored of it and/or they’ve used up their budget…and want to move onto another shiny new thing.

BUT…and this is the biggie…before, during and after this maturity exercise, they retain, and promote, management’s current faulty logic on ‘implementing change’.

An observation: A fundamental fault with the ‘maturity model movement’ is that each model has an end point (the supposed end of the journey). If this were so then the likes of Toyota would presumably have stopped improving decades ago.

A reflection:  I was asked by a comrade as to whether I believed that ‘maturity models’ could be of use4.

So, er, yes…there could most definitely be some positives BUT I’d suggest that these will be limited in scope, scale and duration….so not really transformational.

Now, if you think that you’ve got a maturity framework that would change management’s fundamental beliefs and behaviours…then you are very welcome to share this with me and anyone else reading this blog.

 A closing ‘cover my arse’ comment: I ‘get’ that many of you reading this will have ‘successfully’ used maturity models in your careers to date. This post is just me jotting down my thoughts on why I have a problem with them. It’s merely therapy for me 🙂

Footnotes

1. Not so miraculous when you consider that the people wanting the organisation to implement ‘the change’ wrote (or copied) the scale and its associated wording. It would be no good if you were already a 4 or 5.

2. When I say ‘move’ I actually mean ‘look for any evidence’ that could justify arguing that you are now a rather wonderful 4!

3. regarding ‘target’ – management will likely have baked some success criteria into their existing (and hugely flawed) cascaded objectives and incentives framework…meaning that they are somewhat biased in looking for favourable outcomes.

4. A few of those around me are always trying to get me to ‘see the positives’ in things 🙂

 

“You keep saying that…but what does it mean?!”

what-does-it-meanSo I recently had a most excellent conversation with a comrade.

I’d written some guff in the usual way and he wanted to push back on it…great! I need to be challenged on my thinking, particularly the more I verbalise (and therefore risk believing) it.

His push back:

I’d used the ‘absorb variety’ [in customer demand] phrase yet again…and he (quite rightly) said “but what does it mean?”

He went on to say that, whilst he understands and agrees with a great deal of what I write about, he doesn’t fully agree with this bit. He has reservations.

So we got into a discussion about his critique, which goes something like this:

“I agree that we should be customer focused, but…‘absorb their variety’???

You can’t do anything for everybody….they’d start asking for the world…you’d go out of business! There have to be rules as to what we will or won’t do.”

He gave an example:

“If a customer asked you to fax them their documents [e.g. invoice, contract, policy…], surely you’d say no because this is such old technology and it doesn’t make sense for people to use it anymore.”

Yep, a very fair view point to hold…and an example to play with.

So, in discussing his critique, I expanded on what I mean when using the ‘absorb variety’ phrase. Here’s the gist of that conversation:

First, be clear as to what business you are in

Taking the “you can’t do anything for everybody” concern: I agree…which is why any business (and value stream within) should be clear up-front on its (true) purpose.

However, such a purpose should be written in terms of the customer and their need. This is important – it liberates the system from the ‘how’, rather than dictating method. It allows flexibility and experimentation.

Clarification: ‘liberating’ doesn’t mean allowing anything – it means a clear and unconstrained focus on the purpose (the ‘why’ for the system in question). If you don’t have a clear aim then you don’t have a system!

Understanding the customer: who they are, what they need.

fredOkay, so the purpose is set, but each customer that comes before us is different (whether we like this or not). The generic purpose may be the same, but what works best for each unique customer and their specific situation will have nuances.

On ‘unique’: A service organisation (or value stream within) may serve many customers, but a customer only buys one service – their need. We need to see the world through their eyes.

“The customer comes in customer-shaped” (John Seddon)

Let’s take the scenario of an insurer handling a house burglary, with some contents stolen and property damage from the break-in.

The customer purpose of ‘help me recover from my loss’ is generic yet focused…it clearly narrows down what the value stream is about.

But, at the risk of stereotyping, here’s some potential customer nuances:

  • Fred1 is an old person that lives at home alone. He’s very upset and concerned about his security going forward;
  • Hilary is a really busy person and just wants the repair work done to a high quality, with little involvement required from her;
  • Manuel2 doesn’t speak English very well;
  • Theresa is currently away from the country (a neighbour notified the police);
  • ….and the variety goes on and on and on3

Each of these customers needs to recover from their loss…but the specifics of what matters differ and these can be VERY important to them.

If we (are ‘allowed’ by our management system4 to) make the effort up-front to (genuinely) understand the customer and their specific unit of demand, and then work out how best to meet their needs then they are going to be very happy…and so are we…AND we will handle their need efficiently.

If we don’t understand them and, instead, try to force them into a transaction orientated strait-jacket, we can expect:

…adding significant and un-necessary costs and damaging our reputation.  Not a great place to work either!

Do what is ‘reasonable’ for them

Right, so you may agree that we should understand a customer and their reality…but I still hear the critique that we can’t do anything and everything for them, even if it could be argued as fitting within the purpose of the value stream in question.

So let’s consider the ‘what’s reasonable?’ question. ‘Reasonable’ is judged by society, NOT by your current constraints. Just because your current system conditions5 mean that you can’t do it doesn’t make it unreasonable!

computer-says-noA test: if you (were allowed to actually) listen to the customer, understand the sense in their situation and the reasonableness of their need…but respond with “computer says no” (or such like) then your value stream isn’t designed to absorb variety.

And so we get to what it means to design a system that can absorb variety.

It doesn’t mean that we design a hugely complicated system that tries to predict every eventuality and respond to it. This would be impossible and a huge waste.

It means to design a system that is flexible and focuses on flow, not scale. This will be achieved by putting the power in the hands of the front-line worker, whilst providing them with, and allowing them to pull, what they need to satisfy each customer and their nominal value. This is the opposite of front-line ‘order takers’ coupled to back-office specialised transaction-oriented sweat shops.

How does that ‘fax request’ example sit with the above? Well, on its own, I don’t know…and that’s the point! I’d like to know why the customer wants it by fax.

  • perhaps they aren’t in their normal environment (e.g. they are on holiday in the middle of nowhere) and the only thing available to them is some old fax machine;
  • perhaps they didn’t know that we can now email them something;
  • perhaps they don’t (currently) trust other forms of communication…and we’d do well to understand why this is so;
  • perhaps, perhaps perhaps…

Each scenario is worthy of us understanding them, and trying to be reasonably flexible.

Forget all that!

take-a-lookOf course the above means virtually nothing.

You’d need to see the variety in your system for yourself to believe, and understand, it…and the way to do that would be to listen and see how your current system DOESN’T absorb variety.

How would you do that? Well, from listening to the customer:

  • in every unit of failure demand;
  • within each formal complaint made to you;
  • …and from every informal criticism made ‘about you’ (such as on social media)

I’ve got absolutely no idea what you would find! But do you?

 The funny thing is…

…if we allow front-line/ value-creating workers to truly care about, and serve each customer – as individuals – in the absence of ‘management controls’ that constrain this intent (e.g. activity targets) then:

  • the ‘work’ becomes truly inspiring for the workers, ‘we’ (the workers) gain a clear purpose with which we can personally agree with and passionately get behind;
  • we become engaged in wanting to work together to improve how we satisfy demand, for the good of current and future customers; and
  • the ‘management controls’ aren’t needed!

If I asked you, as a human being:

  • do you primarily care about, say, a ‘7 day turn-around target’? (other than to please management/ get a bonus)

vs.

  • do you really want to help Fred (or Hilary, Manuel, Theresa…) resolve their specific needs and get back on with their lives?

…how would you answer?

We need to move away from what makes sense to the attempted industrial production of service delivery to what makes sense in the real worlds of the likes of Fred.

Footnotes

1. Fred: The picture of Fred comes from a most excellent blog post written by Think Purpose some time ago. This post really nicely explains about the importance of understanding customer variety in a health care setting.

2. Manuel: A tribute to the late Andrew Sach (a.k.a Manuel from Fawlty Towers) who died recently. He wasn’t very good at English…

que

3. Variety in service demand: I’ve previously written about Professor Frances Frei’s classification of five types of variety in service demand and, taken together, they highlight the lottery within the units of demand that a service agent is asked to handle.

4. Allowed to: This is not a criticism of front-line workers. Most (if not all) start by wanting to truly help their customers. It is the design of the system that they work within that frustrates (and even prevents) them from doing so.

You show me a bunch of employees and I’ll show you the same bunch that could do awesome things. Whether they do so depends!

5. System Conditions may include structures, policies, procedures, measures, technology, competencies…

6. Bespoke vs. Commoditisation: It has been put to me that there are two types of service offerings. Implied within this is that there are two distinct customer segments: One that wants little or no involvement for a low cost and another that wants, and is willing and able to pay for, a bespoke service.

This is, for me, far too simplistic and misunderstands customer variety. Staying with the world of insurance…

A single customer might want low involvement when managing their risk (taking out a policy and paying for it, say, ‘online’) but to deal with a human if they need help recovering from a loss (i.e. at claim time).

That same customer may switch between wanting low involvement and the human touch even within a value stream – e.g. happy with low involvement car insurance but wants a human when it comes to their house insurance.

…and even within a given unit of demand, a customer may be happy with low involvement (say registering a claim)…but want the option of a human conversation if certain (unpredictable) scenarios develop.

The point is that we shouldn’t attempt to pigeon-hole customers. We should aim to provide what they need, when they need it…and they will love us for it!

7. Automation: On reading the above, some of you may retort with “Nice ideas…but you’re behind the times ‘Granddad’ – the world has moved to Artificial Intelligence and Robotics”. I wrote about that a bit back: Dilbert says… lets automate everything!

It’s complicated!…or is it?

mandelbrot-setI’ll  start with a question: What’s the difference between the two words ‘Complex’ and ‘Complicated’?

Have a think about that for a minute…and see what you arrive at.

I did a bit of fumbling around and can report back that:

  • If you look these two words up in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), then you’d think they mean the same thing; however
  • If you search Google for ‘complex vs. complicated’, then you’ll find oodles of articles explaining that they differ, and (in each author’s opinion) why; and yet
  • …. if you were to read a cluster of those articles you’d find totally contradictory explanations!

Mmmm, that’s complicated…or is that complex?

This post aims to clarify, and in so doing, make some incredibly important points! It’s probably one of my most ‘technical’ efforts…but if you grapple with it then (I believe that) there is gold within.

Starting with definitions:

Here are the OED definitions:

Complex: consisting of many different and connected parts.

  • Not easy to analyse or understand; complicated or intricate”

Complicated: consisting of many interconnecting parts or elements; intricate.

  • Involving many different and confusing aspects
  • In Medicine: Involving complications.”

So, virtually the same – in fact one refers to the other! – but I think we can agree that neither are simple 🙂 . They are both about parts and their interconnections.

Turning to the ‘science’ of systems:

scienceWhilst the OED uses the ‘complex’ and ‘complicated’ words interchangeably, Systems Thinkers have chosen to adopt distinctly different meanings. They do this to usefully categorise different system types.

Reading around systemsy literature2, I repeatedly see the following categorisation usage:

Simple systems: Contain only a few parts interacting, where these are obvious to those that look; Extremely predictable and repeatable

Example: your seat on an aeroplane

Complicated systems: Many parts, they operate in patterned (predictable) ways but ‘how it works’ is not easily seen…except perhaps by an expert

Example: flying a commercial aeroplane…where, of note, its predictability makes it very safe

Complex systems: unpredictable because the interactions between the parts are continually changing and the outcomes emerge – and yet look ‘obvious’ with the benefit of hindsight.

Example: Air Traffic Control, constantly changing in reaction to weather, aircraft downtime…etc.

“…and the relevance of this is?”

There is a right way, and many a wrong way, to intervene in systems, depending on their type! Therefore, correct categorisation is key.

A (the?) major mistake that ‘leaders’ of organisations make is they presume that they are dealing with a complicated system…when in fact it is complex4. If you initially find this slightly confusing (it is!) then just re-read, and ponder, the definitions above.

Management presume that they are operating within a complicated (or even simple) system whenever they suppose that they can:

– administer a simple course of ‘best practise’ or external expert advice…and all will be well;

– plan in detail what something will turn out like, how long it will take and at what cost…when they’ve never done it before!;

– implement stuff as if it can simply be ‘rolled back’ to an earlier state if it doesn’t work out…not understanding that, once acted upon, the people affected have been irrevocably changed (and regularly suffer from what I refer to as ‘change fatigue’5);

– isolate and alter parts of the system to deliver a predicted (and overly simplistic) outcome…by which I am referring to the slapstick ‘benefits case’ and it’s dastardly offspring the ‘benefits realisation plan’…

…Management can, of course, invoke the Narrative Fallacy to convince themselves that all that was promised has been achieved (and will be sustained)…whilst ignoring any inconvenient ‘side effects’;

– strip out (and throw away) fundamental parts of a system whilst invoking their constant simplification battle cry…because they can’t (currently) see, let alone understand, why these parts are necessary;

…and I’m sure you can carry on the list.

The distinction between ‘complicated’ and ‘complex’ fits quite nicely with Russell Ackoff’s distinction between deterministic (mechanistic) and organic systems; and  John Seddon’s distinction between manufacturing and service organisations (and the complexity of variety in customer demand).

Put simply 🙂 , in complex systems, it’s the relationships between the parts (e.g. people) that dominate.

So what?

jack-deeWell, if Management understand that they are dealing with a complex organisation then they will (hopefully) see the importance of designing their system to take advantage of (rather than butcher) this fact.

Such a design might include:

  • aligning individual and organisational purpose, by sharing success (and removing management instruments that cause component-optimising behaviours)
  • putting capability measures into the hands of front line/ value creating workers, where such measures:
  • allowing and supporting the front line/ value creating workers to:
    • absorb the customer variety that presents itself to them; and
    • imagine, and experiment with, ways of improving the service for their customers
  • …and much much more systemsy thinking

This would mean creating a system that is designed to continuously adjust as its components change in relation to one another. That would be the opposite of ‘command and control’.

Huge clarification: Many a command-and-control manager may respond that, yes, they already continually adjust their system…I know you do!!!  It’s not you that should be doing the adjusting…and so to self-organisation:

From simple to complex…and back again6

answersThe giant systems thinker Donella Meadows wrote that highly functional systems (i.e. the ones that work really well) likely contain three characteristics – resilience7, self-organisation and hierarchy8.

I’ll limit myself here to writing about self-organisation:

“The most marvellous characteristic of some complex systems is their ability to learn, diversify, complexify, evolve…This capacity of a system to make its own structure more complex is called self-organisation(Meadows)

Wow, ‘complexify’ – a new word?!…and it can be a very good thing…and goes 1800 against the corporate simplification mantra:

“We would do better at encouraging, rather than destroying, the self-organising capacities of the systems of which we are a part….which are often sacrificed for purposes of short-term productivity and stabiliy7(Meadows)

It turns out that complexity isn’t of itself a bad thing…in fact quite the opposite – a system can achieve amazing things as it becomes more complex. Just consider that, through the process of evolution, ‘we’ have ‘complexified’ (can you see what I did there) from amoeba to human beings!

…but what’s REALLY interesting is that this complexity is enabled by simplicity!

“System theorists used to think that self-organisation was such a complex property of systems that it could never be understood…new discoveries, however, suggest that just a few simple organising principles can lead to wildly diverse self-organising structures.” (Meadows)

Meadows went on to note that:

“All of life, from viruses to redwood trees, from amoebas to elephants, is based on the basic organising rules encapsulated in the chemistry of DNA, RNA, and protein molecules.”

In short: Simple rules can allow complex systems to blossom, self-learn and grow.

I believe that a wonderful, and complex, organisation can be created and sustained from living a simple philosophy.

“Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behaviour.

Complex rules and procedures give rise to simple and stupid behaviour.” (Dee Hock)

….so what might such a simple philosophy be? Well, Deming was ‘all over’ this with his ‘Theory of Profound knowledge’* and ’14 points for Management’.

* Deming explained simply that we should:

  • Observe, and handle, the world around us as systems (which, by definition, require a purpose that is obvious to all);
  • Expose, and understand, variation;
  • Gain knowledge through studying and experimenting;
  • Understand psychology and truly respect each and every human being ; and
  • Lead through our actions and abilities.

…and a final warning against that oversimplification thing:

“Collapse is simply the last remaining method of simplification.”  (Clay Shirky)

The short ‘simple’ version at the end of the long ‘complicated’ one 🙂

‘Complexity’ is not the inherently bad ogre as persistently painted by contemporary management. Rather, it can be a defining property of our organisational system that we would do well to understand and embrace.

Let’s feast at the ’complex but right’ bookcase of knowledge, design appropriate and evolving responses based on simple scientific wisdom and climb the mountain…rather than automatically follow the crowd over the ‘simple but wrong’ cliff!

Footnotes

1. Opening Image: This image is a part of the Mandelbrot Set – an amazingly complicated (or is that complex?) image that is derived from the application of a simple mathematical formula. It sits within the fractal school of Mathematics (repeating patterns) alongside others such as the Koch snowflake.

Image Source : CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=322029

2. Systems Thinking Literature: This systems thinking is taken, in part, from a 2011 HBR article Learning to Live with Complexity.

3. Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework is built (partly) around the difference between complicated and complex….and the importance of correctly identifying your system type before intervening. Snowden’s framework also adds the idea of chaotic systems, where there is some emergency that requires urgent action (without the time to experiment)…where the action chosen may determine how the chaos is halted…which may or may not be in your favour!

4. The inclusion of people in a system likely makes it complex.

5. Change Fatigue: This is my phrase for those people who have worked for an organisation for many years and had the annual ‘silver bullet’ change programme rolled out on them…and got bored of the same lecture and the same outcomes. It is very hard to energise (i.e. excite) someone with ‘change fatigue’.

6. Cartoon: I LOVE this cartoon! It is sooo apt. The vast majority are on the simple road, following the crowd over an (unseen) cliff…or at least not seen until it is too late. A few turn right at the ‘bookcase of knowledge’ – they take a book or two and then travel a circuitous and uphill road to an interesting destination.

7. Resilience vs. stability clarification: “Resilience is not the same thing as being…constant over time. Resilient systems can be very dynamic….conversely, systems that are constant over time can be unresilient.” (Donella Meadows)

8. Hierarchy: I’m aware that some organisations have experimented without a formal hierarchy (e.g. Holacracy). However, even they create a set of rules to assist them co-ordinate their component parts.

It’s worth noting that “Hierarchies evolve from the lowest level up…the original purpose of a hierarchy is always to help its originating subsystems do their jobs better…[however] many systems are not meeting our goals because of malfunctioning hierarchies…

 To be a highly functional system, hierarchy must balance the welfare, freedoms and responsibilities of the subsystems and total system – there must be enough central control to achieve co-ordination towards the large-system goal, and enough autonomy to keep all subsystems flourishing, functioning, and self-organising.” (Meadows)