Updated: Jul 28, 2020
Organizations of all shapes and sizes utilize systems to ensure that the right work gets done at the right time in the right way. In fact many will have a system of systems to manage them all.
However, over the years what I have noticed is that many of these systems end up as little more than the sum of their parts: processes, activities, tasks, etc. Systems rarely do or ever create the intended outcomes at the levels needed by the organization.
There are many reasons for why this is the case. One of these reasons, which I have discussed before, has to do with the approach chosen for system implementation. Most implementations use a component-first approach that is followed by successive phases to build in more capabilities over time to finally reach a system that is "effective."
While there may have been good intentions to get there, the final state of "effective" is seldom reached. As a result companies end up with systems that do not fulfill their purpose and in many cases are barely operational.
You might say that a component-first approach is the equivalent of the "waterfall" project methodology where benefits are realized only at the very end. This approach makes sense when you have a a high degree of certainty in both the ends and the means of what you are building.
However, what if you needed to learn both what the ends are and the means to get there as you went along. Is this not what advancing capability maturity looks like? This kind of implementation requires a different approach.
You would need a working system (i.e. operational) right at the start in the same way that "agile" focuses on having working software right at the start. In fact, this strategy is called the, "Lean Startup" approach which focuses not only always on having working code but having a working system or better always having a system that works.
This approach affords companies the opportunity to learn on an operational system to improve performance and effectiveness at every stage of system development. Benefits can be realized early rather than later and this is critical when it comes to advancing quality, safety, environmental and regulatory outcomes where the risks are high.
Agile and Lean Startup are examples of system-thinking used for software development but can also be applied to other kinds of endeavors. The key is to take a holistic rather than reductive perspective when it comes to building a system. You can read more about the Lean Startup / Agile approach here.
To help our members learn more about systems-thinking we have compiled a curated list of videos on the topic along with blog articles and other resources. The Systems Thinking Workshop is available to all members as part of our free membership package. We will be adding more content over time with specific attention to its application to risk & compliance.