Tag Archives: Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking #5- Common Leverage & Convergence

When we are trying to solve customer problems it is important that we do not ignore the fact that business outcomes will also rely on defining a great product that needs to be supported by a strong org design that helps align with the flow of the business.

The application of convergent thinking practice ( picked from the design thinking paradigm ) is helpful in such situations for selecting the optimal solution from a finite set of ideas collected from different sources that can solve a discrete challenge quickly and efficiently.

Apply the process of system thinking to identify a finite set of ideas. Then identify common leverage points.

Apply the methods of convergent thinking using the data and information you need to guide a decision or solution.

Leverage the knowledge of subject experts and relevant data to drive systems thinking and provide the team with analysis to bring that information together into an educated decision. Convergent thinking will typically call for speed and accuracy

A decision that drives us to find a common leverage that can lead us to define and commit on all the three axes of customer problem, product, and org becomes a well-informed decision.

Systems Thinking Tips #4- Making of a Blueprint

If we were to bring the following tips together we can then help frame a blueprint that we can then use in practice to see if we are able to get outcomes different than traditional approaches. I am talking about the following :

Systems Thinking Tips #3- System Archetype Traps


Delays , nonlinearities , lack of firm boundaries and other properties of systems that surprise us are found in just about any system, Generally they are not properties that can or should be changed. The world is non-linear

Donella Meadows

Whilst dealing with systems there will be often many times that you will see them be non-linear in nature. Trying to solve them with linearity often as times is just an administrative convenience and nothing more.

System troubles are mostly unique in nature and such common problematic behaviors are known as archetypes. In context to management and system design, you will see two dominant archetypes that we should be aware of

  • Tragedy of Commons
  • Seeking the wrong goal
  • Drift to low performance
  • Escalation

Understanding archetypal problem-generating structures are not enough. Putting with them is impossible. They need to be changed. The destruction they caused is often blamed on particular actors or events although it is actually a consequence of system structure. Blaming, disciplining, firing, and making fevered changes to the policy framework will never fix this. This is what is described as archetype traps.

So what can we do about them?

In simple terms, when we start changing our approach to being systems thinkers, we will and should develop the look-ahead approach that helps us to see things in advance and not get caught by them. This is an important skill that can not be taught but only through experience and doing more, one hones it to make it effective. The more exposure you have to systems, and keep this in the back of your mind, you will see that every next move is following a reinforcing loop, making you better at identifying these traps.

When we talk in my upcoming post, we will get the concepts from Feedback tips and Solving problems creatively to converge with the identification of archetypes traps to create a blueprint of sorts for solving problems with a systems mindset.

Keep watching this space!

Systems Thinking Tips #2- Feedback Loops

The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back

Peter Senge – The Fifth Discipline

As the Senge quote implies, brute force does not scale well within the context of a system. One of the reasons for systems stability is feedback. Within the bounds of the system, actions lead to outcomes, which in turn affect future actions. This is a positive thing, as it is required to keep a complex operation on course.

The presence of feedback is an integral characteristic of a system. No feedback means no system.

There are two main types of feedback:

  • Reinforcing feedback: a change in system state which serves as a signal to enhance the initial change. In other words, the system provides a big difference in the same direction.
  • Balancing feedback: a change in a system state that serves as a signal to start moving in the opposite direction to restore the lost balance.

Things to consider are as follows

  • How you are accepting and executing feedback signals?
  • How the feedback relationship with your investors is evolving, in terms of your product direction?
  • How the feedback relationship with your users is evolving, in terms of both operational criteria and product direction?

Feedback loops are a powerful tool in the manager’s hands. The initial change in the variable (process, etc) stimulates its further change in the original direction. Thus, if we succeed in changing the variable in the direction we need (reinforcing loop), we can start the process throughout the whole context, and since the variables enter several contexts (aka contours) at once, we can launch the same series of cascade effects that will now work for us. All systems are endowed with a balancing feedback mechanism that ensures their stability. But — in order for balancing feedback to work, measurement is necessary (f.e., to define when should we switch to a balancing loop). This measurement must be accurate enough for the feedback to work adequately.

Systems Thinking Tips #1- Help solve problems creatively

A systems thinking perspective and approach is key to effective roadmap integration and action. We should think in terms location and type of system ‘Leverage Points’ when we think of sustainable intervention and action.

For solving problems creatviely using systems thinking approach following three points are important to consider and keep in mind

Identify Points of Change

The first step is to understand the system you’re working with, and then identify its “leverage points”—in other words, the points in a system where “a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything,” as Thinking in Systems Meadows puts it.

Changing mindsets and paradigms is also a leverage point. Meadows believes it is the highest one:

“There’s nothing necessarily physical, expensive, or even slow in the process of paradigm change,” she said. “In a single individual, it can happen in a millisecond—all it takes is a click in the mind, an epiphany, a new way of seeing.”

Finding Patterns

Every system has patterns that will emerge. By identifying them, it’s possible to figure out which parts of the system need adjusting.

These patterns can be identified from three perspectives:

The “event perspective” is reactionary—for example, by asking, “What happened?” In order to get the most out of this perspective, try telling a story. Seeing beyond each event helps you see patterns and trends, which facilitates anticipating, predicting, and planning.

The “pattern perspective” is to ask, “What has been happening?” This relates to Ernest Hemingway’s “iceberg theory,” so-called because his writing explicitly stated only a small part of the larger story. It’s usually hard to see the underlying structures that cause events; the part of the iceberg hidden beneath the water line. A systems thinker does not assume the visible part of the iceberg is all there is to it.

The “structure perspective” asks, “What is causing the issue?” For instance, if you’re stuck in traffic, you don’t blame the person directly in front of you; you ask, “What’s causing the traffic jam?” Usually, the answer is construction or a crash. Systems thinkers make deductions based on internal structures to arrive at a conclusion.

Clarify the Issue

There’s a difference between “people problems” and “systems problems.” A bad hire that’s gossiping and distracting your team from work is a people problem. Therefore, replacing that person is a leverage point. But that doesn’t mean your people problem is not still related to a system, somehow. Maybe there’s a flaw in your interview process that allowed the bad hire to be made. In that case, the leverage point would be tweaking your hiring process.

Thinking back to the traffic jam, a potential system-based solution might be installing traffic lights, better enforcing traffic laws, or changing construction hours to a time when less people are commuting.

Getting to the core of a problem before making a decision will not only make you a better thinker, it will make you a more productive leader, too. We need to ensure that today’s solution does not become tomorrow’s problem

Reflecting Back On Choluteca Bridge!

I have personally never been to Honduras , but there is a bridge on Choluteca river ( or was ) by the name of Choluteca in Honduras , Central America which has caught lot of attention since last year as COVID started to rage wildly across the globe.

source – google

The image shows a 484-metre-long bridge on the river Choluteca located in Honduras, Central America. In 1996, the government had some brilliant architectural minds construct the bridge to withstand storms and hurricanes. Two years later, Atlantic’s second-deadliest hurricane struck Central America. Hurricane Mitch caused over 11,000 fatalities in Central America, 7,000 in Honduras alone. There were 75 inches of rain in four days, which was an equivalent of what the country would normally receive in six months. The Bridge stayed put and maintained its pride. While the Hurricane wiped away roads and wrecked bridges, The Choluteca Bridge emerged as the last-bridge-standing, that too in an impeccable condition.

Ok so what is the issue here ?

  • The hurricane swept away the roads leading to the bridge and rendered them as good as nonexistent!
  • Heavy rains caused the Choluteca river to change its course, creating new channel which was then flowing parallel to the bridge!

Therefore, the bridge lost its initial purpose. It then became a ‘bridge to nowhere’ , only to be connected back to highway around 2003.

For me whenever I look at the above , and reflect , I find multiple thoughts that cross my mind and different readings that I took from following books :

Both these books have many elements that will help you resonate on two aspects in simple terms

  • Uncertainty is the name of the game . a year back we talked about 5 year plans and couple of years back did strategic offsite huddles to frame our strategy but now planomics can only be as good as long it survives the next moment ! From Developed to Developing .. nobody is prepared enough to handle current COVID crisis. We are all reacting in moment to take us farther than what we are today !
  • Systems Thinking is evermore important skill to have in order to create better viewport of the solution we may have in mind ! Events like COVID require a systems level thinking to see through challenges that create better feedback loops and broad spectrum solution design !

I did like to leave my readers with the thought below . See it in above context . We all need to become better at saving time and managing in constraints !

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week. – George S. Patton

Be The Thinker In System

In the modern world knowing only one thing does not suffice and it holds true across the board. The area in product management seems to become the biggest testimony to this aspect. If you want to be a strategic contributor as a product manager then in that case it becomes important that one should first become the thinker in system. I recommend everybody taking this path to definitely add to your reading list the following book : Think In Systems  by Donella H. Meadows

Coming back to the main point , what I did like to reflect here is that today, you can’t host your product on one platform. Usually, your product lives on multiple platforms or even more the platform itself is an net-sum product suite —your website, partner API , connecting systems etc.  Product managers need the experience and know-how to manage one product and features across all platforms. There’s whole art and science of keeping your product aligned and synced across diverse platforms.

One needs to be build understanding by observing and mapping the System, for example using the well-known method of User Journey Mapping.  They’re valuable as a way to describe your understanding of a system, and are best applied in collaboration with your critical stakeholders. The value of mapping and modelling the systems you’re trying to influence is that it helps you to spot the trends and patterns within that system.

Focus on following aspects:

Flow

What information is shown to who, how is that information shown, and who can manipulate information.

Rules

What governs the systems and how it operates. The bounded and unbounded context. The macro effects on the system.

Mindset

Changing behavior is not a joke but encouraging a new approach or adoption is an important point that needs to be kept in mind of a product manager to be a strategic thinker.

How do you organize the development of the product to match the way users consume it split up across different experiences?