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Systems Thinking Primer

Systems Thinking Primer

Main Takeaways
As a management discipline Systems Thinking concerns an understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the components that comprise the entirety of that defined system. The boundaries of a whole system may be chosen and defined at a level suitable for the particular purpose under consideration.
In Systems Thinking, basic expierences and fundamental laws emerge, imporant for organizational design and leadership.

Systems Thinking

There is a definition from Peter Senge's highly influential The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook:

"Systems thinking [is] a way of thinking about, and a language for describing and understanding, the forces and interrelationships that shape the behavior of systems. This discipline helps us to see how to change systems more effectively and to act more in tune with the natural processes of the natural and economic world."

Another quote from Peter Senge's book:

“Systems thinking is a conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools that has been developed over the last 50 years, to make full patterns clearer, and help see how to change them effectively.”

As a management discipline Systems Thinking concerns an understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the components that comprise the entirety of that defined system.

Thereby, a system is an entity with interrelated and interdependent parts; it is defined by its boundaries and it is more than the sum of its parts (subsystem). The boundaries of a whole system may be chosen and defined at a level suitable for the particular purpose under consideration.

Changing one part of the system affects other parts and the whole system, with predictable patterns of behavior.

 

Principles of Systems Thinking

System Thinking is grounded on 5 basic principles, (thwink.org)

  1. feedback loop is system structure that causes an output from one node to eventually influence input to that same node.
  2. A feedback loop is either reinforcing or balancing.
  3. The behavior of all dynamics systems is generated by its feedback loops.
    Therefore, the key principle:
  4. The important behavior of a system emerges from its key feedback loops.
  5. The behavior of a large complex system is generally so counterintuitive that it cannot be correctly understood without modeling the system's key feedback loops.

 

Systemic Laws

Related to Systems Thinking there are some very popular quotes:

"95% of variation in the performance of a system (organization) is caused by the system itself and only 5% caused by the people."

– W. Edwards Deming

 

"Misconception easily turns into common sense."

– Taiichi Ohno

 

“In general difficulties of an organization arise not from outside influences […] rather than what we do ourselves”

– Jay Forrester, Sloan School of Management

 

Besides to these quotes, there are some empirical laws concerned with Systems Thinking.

Brooke’s Law

“Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

– Frederick P. Brooks: The Mythical Man-Month. 1975

 

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality

“The human tendency to devote a great deal of time to unimportant details while crucial matters go unattended.”

– C. Northcote Parkinson

 

Weinberg Brooke's Law

“More software projects have gone awry from management’s taking action based on incorrect system models than for all other causes combined.”

– Gerald Weinberg, Quality Software Management: System Thinking. 1992

 

Postel’s Law – The Robustness Principle

“Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.”

– Jon Postel, Internet pioneer

 

Conway’s Law

“Organizations which design systems […] are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.”

– Mel Conway

 

Parkinson’s Law

“Organizations tend to get bigger.”

 

Hawthorne Effect

“Individuals modify their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.”

 

Campbell’s Law

“Once a metric has been identified as a primary indicator for success, its ability to accurately measure success tends to be compromised.”

– Donald T. Campbell, American social scientist

 

Goodhart’s Law

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

– Charles Goodhart, British economist

 

Little’s Law

“Under steady state conditions, the average number of items in a queuing system equals the average rate at which items arrive multiplied by the average time that an item spends in the system.”

– John Little

 

Local Optimization

“Focusing on one property (only) may have unintended effect on the system as a whole.”

 

Sub-optimization Principle

“If each subsystem, regarded separately, is made to operate with maximum efficiency, the system as a whole will not operate with utmost efficiency.”

– General Systems Theory (Lars Skyttner)

 


 

Further Readings

Books:

  • Donald G. Reinertsen2009: The Principles of Product Development Flow. Second Generation Lean Product Development. Celeritas Publishing, 2009.
  • Daniel S. Vacanti 2015: Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability: An Introduction. Leanpub, 2015.
  • Donella H. Meadows 2008: Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing Co, 2008.
  • Peter Senge 2006: The Fifth Discipline. Crown Business, 2006.
  • Peter Senge 1994: The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies for Building a Learning Organization. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 1994.
  • Peter Kline, Bernard Saunders 1993: 10 Steps to a Learning Organization. Pfeiffer Wiley, 1993.
  • Linda Booth Sweeney, Dennis Meadows 2010: The Systems Thinking Playbook. Chelsea Green Publishing Co, 2010.
  • John Bicheno 2015: The Lean Games and Simulation Book. Picsie Books, 2015

Internet:


: Wikipedia.org, .

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