Tag Archives: system thinking

Designing In Errors

TiVo’s “self-destruct button” destructs [the broken link was removed]

In so doing, they’ve created a bunch of potential failures in which the user is locked out of her own equipment.

It’s like those movies where an accident or a bad guy triggers the “self-destruct button” on a spaceship. Often the self-destruct button is locked away behind plexiglas and padlocks for safety, but wouldn’t it be safer not to include a single command that blows up the whole space-ship?

You know that is a pretty good explanation of the reasoning behind mistake proofing: eliminate as many possibilities for errors as possible. When you design products that create more possibilities for more errors you create products that will in fact fail more often.

Related: Usability FailuresDell, Reddit and Customer FocusComplicating SimplicityManagement Improvement Dictionary

Systemic Thinking

Systemic Thinking by Gary Bartlett provides a nice introduction to systemic thinking compared to analysis. Analysis is very useful however, the strong tendency to focus on only breaking apart systems to analyze components does result in missing insight into improvement opportunities (that can be gained by looking at the system as a whole).

Conventional thinking techniques are fundamentally analytical. Systemic thinking is different – it combines analytical thinking with synthetical thinking.

That tool is synthesis – seeing how things work together. Synthesis is more than putting things back together again after you’ve taken them apart: It’s understanding how things work together.

Analytical thinking enables us to understand the parts of the situation. Synthetical thinking enables us to understand how they work together.

Related: articles by Russell Ackoffblog posts on systems thinking

Lean National Health System

A presentation today, Lean Thinking For the NHS, by Dan Jones is getting press coverage in England.NHS should embrace lean times:

The improvements came through examining the patient’s whole experience, and removing the sometimes-fatal delays in getting them into the operating theatre, such as creating a faster process for radiology and removing unnecessary paperwork.These changes also lessen staff frustrations by allowing them to spend more time helping patients. Also, by cutting length of stay and complications, costs should also start to fall, although Mr Fillingham – former director of the NHS Modernisation Agency – said it will take several years for the savings to become substantial.

This is an example of focusing on improving the system which will then result in improved measures (cost savings for example). This systems approach contrasts with cutting costs by cutting every budget by 5% across the board which often fails. Without improvements in the system reducing budgets just reduces capability.

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Fast Company Interview: Jeff Immelt

Fast Company Interview: Jeff Immelt, CEO, GE.

What makes a growth leader today, and how does that differ from the sort of leader who was effective at GE in the past?

GE has always been a believer in leadership development. When the economy was growing 5% a year, when oil was $14 a barrel, and when the world was at peace, the science of management was all about the how-to. That was the how-to generation. You didn’t have to think about the what. Instead, there were management initiatives such as Six Sigma, which was the how.

So most of management literature, certainly for the past 10 years, was all about the how-to. I think we’re now in the what-and-where generation. Global economies are slow and more volatile. Oil is at $50 a barrel. So this ability to pick markets, growth trends, customers, and to do segmentation — that is management today. We have a generation of people who know how to do process flow charts. We have a generation of people who know how to do quality function deployment and things like that, but don’t necessarily know why we’re doing them. What’s the what and the where? I believe that wholeheartedly. Nothing is completely black and white, but we are in a completely different cycle of what good managers know how to do.

I must say this doesn’t make much sense to me, but I am not the CEO of a huge company so maybe I just don’t understand. I don’t see any reason why managers in the past shouldn’t have had the qualities he seems to be saying are needed now. And I don’t see any reason why the qualities needed now were not needed in the past. This sure seems like a bunch of words saying nothing to me: perhaps I just don’t see the wonderful cloths the emperor has on.

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SEC chief quotes Deming

Security and Exchange Chairman William H. Donaldson Speaks At Chartered Financial Analysts Institute Annual Conference [broken link removed]:

This approach will, ultimately, better serve investors, and it will also gradually temper the pressures on some corporate executives to fudge the numbers. It would behoove us all to remember the words of W. Edwards Deming: “People with targets, and jobs dependent on meeting them, will probably meet the targets – even if they have to destroy the enterprise to do it.”