My approach to applying systems thinking in my practice is ever changing. I use a blend of systems thinking methods/ models and concepts but I have found that I dip into and out of and consider a particular set of things quite routinely. I’ve captured them in the following diagram and listed them below.
My approach is iterative and I dip into and out of whatever methods/ models/ concept etc the situation I am in indicates I need to use. It’s very much a work in progress and is ever changing, but here it is so far:
Looking at: internal and external context and identity
- Internal and external complexity drivers;
- Purpose, need, demand;
- Rationality, perception and motivation;
- Rules of the game – how are those who are surviving manoeuvring the politics?
- Any elements of human centred design that could be considered?
Considering the system of interest and its boundary and the impact of motivations (SSM, CSH)
- SSM method;
- Flows of influence – management, quality, objectives, budgets, performance measures, hierarchy, organisational culture, personalities, other departments, legislation, financial;
- Motivations – Is there a focus on imposed targets? What kind of culture does it indicate if there is (i.e. a fear culture?) Is one member of staff imposing views upon other etc?
- Control – is there resistance to change on a scale that could be problematic? Do different professional groups have different opinions?
- Knowledge – are certain personalities manipulating/ dominating the situation?
- Legitimacy – Is any resistance and conflict hindering the quality of the process? Is it justifiable? Can you identify how alternative behaviours might serve the goal? How would a different perspective of the organisation/ people open up opportunities?
Considering the systems dynamics (SD)
- Identify the structure (stocks, flows, outflows and feedback) which determines behaviour over time;
- Understand connections underlying motivations and behaviour – For example – is there a focus on imposed targets? What kind of culture does it indicate if there is (i.e. a fear culture?) Is one member of staff imposing views upon others?
- Identify the dominating feedback loop – what is the most important thing that is most limiting?
- History of the system – what is the system’s long-term behaviour?
Considering system statics and dynamics (VSM)
- VSM diagnostic;
- Variety imbalances – identify the critical imbalances;
- Missing components and missing links;
- Flows and blockages;
- How is the system interacting with the environment?
- Archetypes/ pathologies;
- Strengths, weaknesses, barriers, pain pathways;
- What are the symptoms of the behaviour of the system?
- What are the engagement and relationships like?
- Unfold the complexity of the primary systems;
- Model the environment
- What are the connections between the sub systems?
- What are the connections between sub systems and environment?
- Model the co-ordination mechanisms;
- Connections (only look at the connections you need to);
- Model the management functions – systems 3, 4,5, their interactions, connections to environment, operations and each other;
- Go up and down 1 recursive level
Including further system analysis
- Structural couplings;
- Application of systems laws;
- Application of the 12 rules;
- Otto Scharmer’s 3 enemies – are they evident?
- Work out implications of the structural problems – do they match the symptoms or the problem. What insight do they provide for how an improvement can be designed?
- Human error factors – are any identifiable?
Identifying options for change (MCA)
- Systemically desirable and culturally feasible options for change (using MCA)
Using prototype implementation (small scale prototyping)
- Prototype small scale packages of change based around capability for making change without too much disruption;
- Change slowly and incrementally by changing one thing at a time;
- Aim to enhance total system properties like growth, stability, diversity, resilience, diversity
Reviewing & repeating
- This should be a continuous process and stages are not meant to be chronological. They are intended to be done concurrently (to a point) and each point chosen from, depending upon what the situation requires
- Work fluidly and iteratively;
- Let the inquiry guide you and take you where it needs to go.