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Connecting #Holacracy with #VSM (Viable System Model) – there’s hope yet!

I’ve been reading quite some stuff recently on Holacracy, and I think it would make for a very nice mashup with the Viable System Model. Here’s how:

  • The circles look a lot to me like Systems 1 and a hierarchy of them (super-circles, sub-circles) smells like VSM recursive levels to me. If you add that you can have Cross Link representatives (connecting circles that are not hierarchically connected), that starts to looks like true recursivity to me.
  • Then, you have the “process breakdown” part of the constitution that, to me again, is a way to detect unmatched variety at some level and pass it up the hierarchy/recursivity for managing (System 2)
  • And of course, the Lead Link/Rep Link roles match somewhat naturally with the vertical channels: the ones going down from system 3 to System 1 and up through System 2 as well.
  • Separation between operational meetings and governance meetings would fit well with an S3/S1 separation as well
  • Holacracy incorporates some features of the personal productivity method “Getting Things Done” (GTD) from David Allen, and this obviously would make for a very nice addition to a VSM-based organization (or any other one for that matter).

Indeed, Holacracy looks like a very nice way of running a VSM at whatever level you consider it. Where people might mismatch a VSM organization for a hierarchical one, having circles one inside another as a way to feature the recursive nature of VSM and at the same time having each circle functioning as a viably entity in its own would be a great addition. Holacracy doesn’t address the viability of circles explicitly, yet it provides for some nice alerting mechanisms (algedonic signals in VSM terms) that would allow to bootstrap viability.

Where VSM brings a bit more to the picture, to me, is with its specific focus on the Environment (bringing the outside in, something that Steve Denning identified on Forbes) and the explicit focus on the Future and Ethos through System 4 and 5.

What do you think?

Stop investigate solutions, start to gather the world! #stwg #systemsthinking

Stop looking for solutions, start to gather the worldThe problem situation

I love solving problems. Moreover, I also love finding solutions and making scaffolding theories. Yet, I feel there’s a big problem behind such tendencies: the more you work at a solution on your own, the more prefect it seems to be, then the more resistance you’re probably going to generate when you go out to the world for implementing your solution. Here’s why.

On the diagram on the right, start at the “Pressing problem” part and follow the arrows.

  • First the R1 loop (for Reinforcing). This really looks like what you’re all trying to do: you have (good!) solutions, and try to make people adhere to them. I think it’s mostly doomed to fail. The problem entices you to think about a solution which you will mostly want to advocate, thereby triggering a conflict with people’s different world views (because they haven’t got a change to think to your problem themselves), which more probably will result in others rejecting the solution you pushed onto them, thereby lowering the chances that actions are taken to solve the initial problem, in the end, making the problem all the more pressing.
  • The R2 loop is similar, only that is goes through your working out the solution increasing your own conviction that it’s a good one (because you’re adapting your mind to it).
  • The R3 loop is what prevents the whole system to come to a solution that would suit each and every one of us. continuing from the conviction that your solution is a good one, you (maybe unconsciously) decrease your willingness to give time to others to contribute to your building a solution, meaning that they indeed won’t work in a commonly built solution, indeed decreasing the chances (or number) of commonly built solutions, which adds up to the lack of actions taken to solve the problem, thereby making the problem a pressing one.

How to change that situation?

My intuition is that we should redirect energy flowing from the “pressing problem” to “thinking about a solution” (dotted blue arrow) directly to “others participate in a commonly built solution” (the green dotted arrow, mostly non existent at the time, or so it seems to me?). Doing such an action would suppress R1 and R2 loops and R3 would be shortened and more importantly replaced by a Balancing loop, meaning the more you work on a commonly built solution, the less there will be pressing problems.

A global organization to support commonly built solutions

The reflection above came out of a context related to finding global solutions to world pressing problem (mostly in the SEE fields: Social, Economical and Ecological). The Commons is all but one of the concepts meant at addressing these global issues. I’m not saying Management of the Commons is a bad solution. Indeed I even think of the opposite. But I think people working on such a solution should also start worrying about how they would have their solution adopted by lay people at a global level.

Here’s one of many web pages discussing the concept of the commons: Growing the Commons as Meta-narrative?

So, how to create that green dotted arrow, for me, is through a worldwide helping/supporting organization (be it the United Nations or else) that would facilitate concrete resolution of problems locally, regionally and globally. That would necessitate some efficient and practical means of communication between all levels top down and also on horizontal levels, between different fields: for instance, you need the ecologists trying to preserve some local pond to exchange with the nearest city officials, with business shareholders that want to build their industries near the pond, some people representatives that want both a green environment and some work to live decently, etc.

Fortunately, principles on how to organize such an organization do exist in the form of the Viable System Model for organizations as presented by Stafford Beer. What’s still lacking is an efficient model of communication, though in bootstrapping such an organization, currently existing forums, Facebook pages, Wikis and syndicated blogs would probably be do the trick.

To put it shortly and bluntly: the more people will think of a solution, the less chances are that it will become a reality.
(unless you can fund and implement it without the help of others, of course, but since we’re talking of a world-wide problem, it’s just impossible).

What is Ross Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety? (#systemsthinking background material)

This is a concept that I’m using since quite some time now and that I seemed to understand rather intuitively though, necessarily at a general level.

What it basically says is that for a controller to remove noise from a signal, it needs to have a minimum variety that depends on the signal it needs to remove noise from and the variety of the result that it deems Good. Which Ross Ashby summarized as “only variety can kill variety“, where the killing part was about killing the variety of noise. Read more »

A layman explanation of Viable System Model (#vsm #systemsthinking #stwg)

October 13th, 2011 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: ,

VSM Model

VSM Model

I often talk on this blog about the VSM (not to be confused with Lean’s Value Stream Maps). Here’s my try at laying down a quick introduction to it.

First of all, the reader should open the picture on the right in a new window. I’ll refer to it.

The VSM is a model created by Stafford Beer that describes what ought to be done for an organization to be viable (i.e. to sustain itself over time). There are three kind of components in it:

  • Environment (left oval on the diagram), obviously out of the System, defined as Operations+Management
  • Operations (circles in the middle)
  • Management (squares and triangles on the right)

The VSM is an embodiment of Ross Ashby’s law of requisite variety. What does it mean?

Variety is loosely defined as “the number of different states a system can be in”.

The Law of Requisite Variety states that for a system to effectively control another one, it must feature at least as much variety as the one it wants to control.

So these are the basis of the VSM. Here is how it goes.

Environment

The Environment is what the system wants to control, so the system must bear the requisite variety, either genuinely or through attenuation (which means that different states of the Environment are managed through the same response from the System because, from the point of view of the System, they fall into the same “category”).

So, in front of each part of the Environment the System wishes to control, there a corresponding Operations part that interacts with it.

Operations

Operations manage parts of the Environment. As these parts may overlap, different Operations sub-systems need to communicate (represented as the big zig zag line between the two circles on the diagram).

Please note an important point:  the VSM is a recursive model, meaning that every Operations is supposed to be a VSM in itself.

The preceding sentence means that each Operation sub-system is autonomous in the management of its portion of the Environment. More on this later.

Yet, as I said above, some parts of the Environment may overlap, meaning that different Operations sub-systems have to cooperate. Which might, sometime, require some external help in the form of Management.

In the VSM, Operations is named “System 1″.

Management

The Management sub-systems are Systems 2, 3, 3*, 4 and 5 with the following roles:

  • System 2 is in charge of all the signaling between Operations and System 3
  • System 3 manages the relations between different Operations sub-systems and resolve any residual conflicts that may not have been resolved between the System 1 themselves . In VSM speech, it’s said to absorb any residual variety not managed by Operations
  • System 3* (three-star) is an audit system onto Operations
  • System 4 is the foreseeing sub-system in charge of anticipating the future of the Environment as a whole to ensure the VSM will evolve accordingly. Operations are mainly in charge of the present of the Environment parts they’re dealing with and of the Future of their part (since VSM being recursive they have their own sub-system 4)
  • lastly, system 5 is the ethos of the whole VSM, the policy, what defines the strategy of the whole.

Usage of VSM

How do you use the VSM? Mainly, there are two possible usages:

  • one is to define the structure of an organization, the VSM being a template against which a real organization may be designed.
  • the other possible usage is as an audit model where an existing organization is assessed against the model to see where some sub-systems could be lacking, possibly impeding viability of the whole, or where parts of the organization may not fit the VSM in which case these parts can be candidates for removal.

On a more pragmatic level, the overall structure of VSM (and Stafford Beer work on that topic) shows that a viable organization is one where operational entities are autonomous with respect to what they have to manage in the environment, yet following an overall strategy defined at global System 5 level.

Communications between Operations need to exist to ensure coordination and someone must be in charge of coordinating the whole (System 3). Time is taken into account by keeping an eye on the future (System 4) and informing the strategy and/or the management of Operations (System 3) where deemed necessary.

The other side of the coin showed by VSM is that any central authority trying to control everything from the top to down is doomed to fail because it will violate the law of requisite variety (it can’t have the requisite variety). The Environment won’t be properly matched by the variety of the system and so the overall viability is at risk.

Finally, I already talked a bit about VSM (by giving my own sources and mindmap) here (the mindmap is about other principles exposed by Stafford Beer).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Syncho : a blog about Viable System Model, by Raul Espejo (#systemsthinking)

I just wanted to let my readers know that I’ve discovered the blog of Raul Espejo, Director at Syncho and expert at Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model of which I talk sometimes here.

You can read his posts here: Syncho.

I have some links to web pages about VSM, some of them having been done by R Espejo himself: check my delicious bookmarks on VSM (beware Value Stream Mapping links ;)

 

 

Viable Systems Model principles and laws (a #mindmap posted on @biggerplate)

I have often talked on this blog about the law of requisite variety.

Stafford Beer indeed created a model of viable organizations which is supported by a set of principles and laws that I summarized in the just uploaded mindmap.

If you want to know more on that topic, have a look at my delicious bookmarks on VSM.

This is an (old) initial version. I need to update it with information about how the VSM model is organized:

  • Management (S3, S3*, S4, S5)
  • Operations (S1, S2)
  • Environment
  • Communications channels between sub-systems (C1 to C6)

Stay tuned!

A #systemsthinking explanation of lack of respect for people (fundamental #lean pillar)

I have recently finished reading this excellent paper from Raul Espejo regarding the law of requisite variety: “Giving Requisite Variety to Strategic and Implementation Processes: Theory and Practice“. Espejo is a person to read if you’re interested in the Viable System Model (see corresponding articles on this blog and my delicious bookmarks on VSM) as created by Stafford Beer.

In this paper, Espejo make the stunning comment that (I quote, emphasis mine, excerpted from page 3):

“[...] many organisations are still driven by the hierarchical paradigm that assumes the distinctions made at the top are the only relevant ones, which implies that people at lower levels are there only to implement them, but not to make distinctions of their own. Therefore the assumption is that the complexity of a senior manager is much greater than that of a professional in the production line. Somehow it is assumed that people at the top have much bigger brains than those working at ‘lower’ levels. Since they don’t, the space of creative action at ‘lower levels has had to be reduced. The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. This becomes manifest when power is exercised by enforcing distinctions made at corporate levels to construct a limited context of action for the majority in the organisation.”

The last emphasized sentence is insightful for me: “The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy”. What is meant is that with top management having a mental model of having bigger brains than people at lower hierarchical levels, they take on more decisions than people below them. This mental model then hinders learning from the very people that top management would probably want to have bigger brain but that they prevent them from developing… Management complains about employees being cogs in the machine, but, because they think they are, they remove every opportunity for them to turn back to being human and use their brain, which makes them further into cogs.

Another case of espoused-theory vs. theory-in-use, I guess.

In Lean, we say that management should act as coaches to their reporting collaborators and don’t give them answers (we even encourage management to let their employees fail in order to learn). It may be slower on the short-term, but probably the best way to grow them and increase productivity and morale in the longer term.

How many times today have you solved someone else’s problem?

I hope you’ll solve less tomorrow…

Kurt Lewin model of #change and #Lean management

Traditional change models

Kurt Lewin has devised a change model known as “unfreeze-change-freeze“: clever as it is (by highlighting the fact that before changing, there’s a necessary step required to unlock the current status quo), it may not be quite adapted to Lean management as people need to indeed be in constant change when doing Lean and constantly identify new ways of improving things: so the “freeze” part is not what is expected from people in a Lean environment. Initiating a change approach would mean to start to “unfreeze-change-change-change-change-…” or, as most Lean expert would tell you: “unfreeze-change-unfreeze-change-unfreeze-change-…”

The ADKAR model of change is better to this respect because it insists on the need to reinforce the new behavior. Yet, the aspect of diffusing the change throughout the company where it could apply (process known in Lean under the name “yokoten“) and constantly improving upon it (through constant change to the “standard”) is not addressed.

Underlying mental models

There has been some implicit mental models at play in these two kind of change models (other change models feature the same underlying mental models):

  • that you can decide of a change and impose it on collaborators (lack of respect for people) or worse, on a system (worse because the system will resist it) – the Lewin model may be the worst with this respect;
  • that you can invest in the change and once it’s done, you can move on to something else: some change models even advocate for burning the bridges to move back to before (again, flagrant lack of respect for people).
  • and, worse of all (in my mind at least!) that people are dumbly resistant to any change.

For this last point, the ADKAR model tries to address this by Describing the change to impacted people: better than nothing, but still a form of coercion (or intellectual extorsion).

Changing one’s own mental models about change

When you get rid of clinging to these mental bonds, you can discover a whole new world where people are indeed attracted to change, provided it helps them and their customers. The key word here may well be “and“. Moreover, to ensure that the change is indeed what is really needed, management also has to get rid of its role of general problem solver in place of collaborators: that just removes the fun out of the work from those doing it and deprives them from any intellectual challenge, again, a lack of respect of people.

 

Scientific method illustration

Scientific method from http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/scientific-experiments/scientific-method6.htm

 

In this sense, Lean is very postmodern in its approach to change in that it moves well away from Taylorism and gives back the key to change to the very people doing the work. Even the need to change is given back to collaborators: one would not change something that needn’t; again, only those doing the work can decide about the necessity to change. I’d even dare to say that Lean may well be post-postmodern in its approach to collaborators and change in that it just doesn’t move from a blissful consideration of collaborators (as I’m sure some see postmodernism in organizations) but keeps the link with the modern approach and use of the scientific method (through the rigorous use of Plan-Do-Check-Act and fact based approach to improvements). A very nice blend of modernism and post-modernism.

What’s required for postmodern changes

Last point, this new way of seeing change is very different in that it requires constant monitoring of the need to change and the application of the scientific method to assess the effect of current change. And, the big learning here is: without constant investment in continuous improvement, it just won’t be… well continuous. That means that management, at all levels of the organization, needs to constantly invest time and efforts in challenging current status quo and encourages their collaborators to look for the need to change and what to change to, for the triple benefit of the customers, themselves and the company (a result of the two preceding benefits).

If one would look to the (unactionable) root cause of inertia, it would probably be found in the “bounded rationality” of human mind. Yet, knowing this, one has to constantly invest in fighting it, using the most intelligent means for that: constant monitoring of the environment and whether the organization is well adapted to it and, counterpart, whether it needs to change to adapt to it or not. By now, you’ve probably see where I end up: with the concept of requisite variety and the proper design of viable organizations. Topic for another article…

Some old wise man said that’s it’s a shame to see so many people wanting others to change and so few willing to change themselves. Gandhi himself told us that we need to be the change we want to see in the world.

Managers need to embody the change they want to see in their teams. First.

 

 

Change This – Radical Management: Mastering the Art of Continuous Innovation

I’ve posted yesterday about a book I’ve heard of: Radical Management: Mastering the Art of Continuous Innovation.

Now, in my mailbox today, I can see the lastest ChangeThis newsletter with a presentation of Steve Denning’s ideas which he details in his book. The manifesto is here: Change This – Radical Management: Mastering the Art of Continuous Innovation.

I’m happy that I’ve read this manifesto, because it allows me to understand more about what that style of management is all about. And I must say that I like it even more!

Being an idea-connector as I am, I can’t help but connect the principles that Mr Denning proposes to the ones I’m more used to. Here they are.

What are the 7 principles?

First, a quick reminder of the seven principles Mr Denning proposes:

  1. The purpose of work is to delight clients through value innovation
  2. Work should be carried out in self-organizing teams
  3. Work should be done in client-driven iterations
  4. Each iteration should deliver value to clients
  5. Total openness: everyone levels with everyone
  6. The workplace is a context in which teams themselves want to improve
  7. Management communicates through interactive conversations

I shall now link these very interesting propositions with the main topics of this blog and show how I feel they relate to one another.

Lean

Lean is a total management system encompassing the whole organization. Or it should be. One of the fundamental principle of Lean is that you must give customers what they want, at the moment they want it, in the quantity they want, all by reducing their burden to buy it from you. As Lean is rather radical in its force to move toward this direction, it means that to reduce your costs, you also need to reduce your turnover and the best way to do that is to give back some power to your employees and take care of them. You need to let them use their mind as to what and how the company can be improved and how they can best work to best serve your customers.

As the driving obsession of Lean is to achieve all that through the mean of reducing the delay between the moment a customer makes a request and the moment you’ve collected the money he gave you in purchase of your product or service, this means that you should try to deliver any products to any customer requesting it (that’s one-piece-flow behind it, for sure).

I relate this to Mr Denning’s points #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5.

Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking is a way of thinking of systems (as defined as a collection of parts related to each others) that allows to see the forest despite the trees. Indeed, the whole has some (emergent) properties worth studying that you can’t see when only studying the parts. There’s a lot more behind this sole sentence and diverse methods to help you achieve that.

One method that I find especially visible through Mr Denning presentation of Radical Management is that of the Viable System Model by Stafford Beer. I’ve uploaded a diagram presenting what the VSM is (same letters, but different than the Lean “Value Stream Map”) behind this link.

Mr Denning’s Radical Management points #2 especially relates to the system law of requisite variety. According to this law, which is a building principle of the Viable System Model, small teams have a better chance of matching the environment’s variety than some top management up the hierarchical ladder. Hence, autonomous teams, all working under the same vision or in the same direction (as set by point #1) are a must. In this view, point #7 might be seen as a new way of interacting with teams corresponding to System 2 in charge of interactions and conflicts between autonomous systems 1 (teams).

Besides, when you have the autonomy to work the way you want, you’re more willing to improve your own work conditions than if they’re imposed on you by some management far away. That’s point #6.

Strength-based approaches to management

I’ve already covered the 7 points. Yet, although it’s not explicitely stated in the manifesto which I link at the beginning of the article, I have the feeling that the whole radical management system is somewhat more strength-based than traditional management approaches. Indeed, when you’re talking of “delighting clients” (#1), “delivering value” (#4), “openness” (#5) and “interactive conversations” (#7), you’re more likely to deal with what works and motivates people than seeking to assign blame for problems.

Conclusion

All in all, Radical Management seems to be a very good approach to management, with a nicely put combination of Lean, Systems Thinking and Strength-based approaches to management. Being from a Lean background mainly, I can only regret that of all the fantastic Lean books available, people only remember the tools part and not the management part. That’s similar to trying to use some powerful tool without reading the accompanying instructions: no wonder you end up hurting people.

So, if some management book can focus readers on improving their management skills, so far so good! We’re in desperate need of some new style of management and Radical Management, in my opinion, greatly fills the gaps.

Lean and Systems Thinking

November 29th, 2010 Posted in Lean, Systems Thinking Tags: ,

Here is a repost of some ideas I posted in a discussion group on LinkedIn regarding Systems Thinking and Lean. I hope to say more in specific articles on this blog, but… let’s deliver some value right now and improve later! The group is Systems Thinking World. Please note that this post does not address the Vanguard Method (advertised as systems thinking mostly in UK), but systems thinking as one can discover it for instance on Gene Bellinger wonderful web site Systems Wiki.

I can read a lot of comments about Lean toolset. Lean is IMO far more than this, for waving a tool without mastering the environment where you’d like to apply it, you risk hurting someone.

Lean does not advocates systems thinking, though I personnaly feel, when “properly” applied, it helps employees and management build a holistic view of their organization. I agree that all lean tools are reductionistic. But the approach, IMO, is not.

When you start transforming your organization toward Lean (that means for me changing to the new Lean business model, not just applying tools), you need to change the whole organization, not just parts of it. Because when you start to identify the value streams across your departments, you’re considering the whole system. Then, pulling from the customer’s point of view, you need to constantly adapt to what they’re going to buy (quality, delay, costs, etc.) and the pulling impacts the whole company (or should as some people limit it to some parts of the company, which is an error for me). So, yes, Lean only applies to the closed system of the enterprise (or the extended enterprise as advocated by Womack & Jones in “Lean Solutions”), but with a strong eye on the environment so as to constantly adapt the organization to the clients (=environment). From a Viable System Model, that’s decentralizing System 4 throughout the organization.

Then, speaking of continuous improvement which is usually done using the “A3 tool”, the process mandates that the one in charge of the A3 speaks to all involved and do that by going to the real place to see things by himself. Then talk to the people, get their ideas, get their approval, and then only propose the solution for the management and for all to try & improve later. The more you “do A3″, the more you build a systemic view of your company.

Should I need to speak of hoshin kanri, where a direction is set by management and all company hierarchy levels are asked to contribute with the specifics of their respective departments? Isn’t this a description of System 5 and the way it impacts sub-systems 1 as in Viable System Model?