Here are some basics of Systems Thinking that I pulled together for some colleagues recently.
A process is a series of steps intended to achieve a specified output.
A system is two or more processes where the behavior of each process has an inter-dependent effect on the behavior of the whole. (You can’t change one without affecting the other.)
Processes focus on completing tasks . . . Systems are goal seeking and therefor adapt to changing conditions. (Organizations that focus on completing tasks rather than achieving goals are called bureaucracies.)
A system’s effectiveness as much on the health of the individual processes as it is on the interactions between the processes.
You can’t understand a system by taking it apart. (Example: You can’t understand what a human is by studying the heart, lungs, etc., in isolation. You understand the heart by understanding its function, as well as its effect on other functions of the body.)
Systems are only understood by knowing the purpose of the system as well as the functions of the system, i.e., why things operate as they do. You must understand the ‘why’ before you can design an optimal ‘how.’
You can’t optimize a system by optimizing (problem solving) the parts.
The parts must be designed to optimize the whole. You can only do that if you know the target condition of the system.
In order to understanding, design, or think about a system, you must consider:
- What is the objective of the system overall?
- What is the pathway design of materials, information, and services?
- What are the connections between process steps?
- How do people do their work at each process step?
- Each of the design elements must be self-diagnostic. (Jidoka!) Every time a system has a problem, it is an opportunity to better design the pathways, the connections, or the activities.
You can’t design a perfect system, only discover one.
Systems Thinking – Additional Reading:
I’d love to hear any thoughts or recommended reading you may have on systems thinking!