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Towards a Systems KAIZEN

Updated: Jul 28

LEAN uses the Japanese word KAIZEN (change for the better) to communicate its intent with respect to continuous improvement. KAIZEN is a form of intervention and has proven to work well at the PROCESS level.

However, when it comes to changing management SYSTEMS it has not had the impact that many had hoped it would. While removing waste is of some benefit it does not get to the root cause which has more to do with lack of effectiveness than efficiency.

To improve management systems specifically those related to quality, safety, environmental and regulatory objectives, we need interventions that go beyond processes and procedures to approaches that consider the organization as a whole.

An Ideal Systems Model

The construction of an organization can be seen through a systems lens [2]:

  1. An organization comprises technical and human activities. Interactions in organizations are represented in terms of an interactive mixture of technical and human activities. The whole system framework is, then, a horizontally and vertically integrated set of technical and human activities.

  2. Activities of an organization must be efficiently and effectively controlled whilst maintaining viability of the organization. Activities are controlled by technical procedures, and socio-cultural and socio-political rules and practices. Procedures, rules and practices must attune so that viability can be achieved. Environmental factors may also be influenced or controlled.

  3. Activities of an organization must be directed to achieve some purpose. An organization will normally have an officially declared mission to which these activities are ideally directed.

  4. People in organizations appreciate (1) to (3) above in different ways. Individuals and groups naturally make their own interpretations of the interacting activities, the way activities are controlled, and the organization's purpose. They hold a view of their own role and purpose in the organization which can cause conflict, a lack of cohesion, inefficiency, ineffectiveness, rigidity and non-viability in the organization.

  5. (3) and (5) above must be harmonized through organizational design and management style. An organizational design and management style must be chosen that balance people's needs with the organization's needs, remembering that the organization's needs also reflect the business or organizational context.

  6. The whole organizational effort must accept responsibility for the impact of policies on the biological and social environments.

It is with this systems view in mind that we consider how improvement interventions might work, specifically the Total Systems Intervention (TSI) approach introduced by Flood and Jackson (1995) [1].

A Model for Systems Intervention (TSI)

Total Systems Intervention (TSI) is a methodology intended to enable practicing managers to operationalize the principles of Critical Systems Thinking (CST) and a framework known as System of Systems Methodologies (SOSM) which are considered as essential to properly address the complexity of business systems.

Improvement Model for Total Systems Intervention (TSI)

When applied to organizational problem solving Total Systems Intervention (TSI) extends the breadth and depth of systems interpretation to assist managers in deciding an intervention approach.

The emphasis for Flood and Jackson's creation of TSI was the knowledge that any manager wishing of use a systems methodology was faced with having to decide which approach to use among a multitude of diverse approaches each with their own metaphorical understandings of reality.

From their work the following theoretical principles were derived:

  1. Organizations are too complicated to understand using one management model, and their problems are too complex to tackle with quick fixes.

  2. Organizations, their strategies, and their problems should be investigated using metaphorical analysis.

  3. Metaphors that seem appropriate for highlighting organizational strategies and problems can be linked to appropriate systems-based methodologies to guide an intervention.

  4. Different metaphors and methodologies can be used in a complementary way to address different aspects of organizations and their problems.

  5. It is possible to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of different systems methodologies and to relate each to certain organizational concerns and problems.

  6. TSI sets out a systemic cycle of inquiry with interaction back and forth between the three phases (creativity, choice, and implementation).

  7. Facilitators and clients are both engaged at all stages of the TSI process

Total Systems Integration (TSI)

Flood and Jackson propose that our capacity to manage organizations well (and this includes compliance) will be enhanced if:

  • we admit to the diversity of the ‘messes’ confronting managers,

  • we continue to develop a rich variety of methodologies, and

  • we constantly ask “What kind of problem situation can be managed with which sort of methodology?”

TSI provides the framework for this.

TSI consists of a three phase methodology consisting of a systemic cycle of inquiry by which a suitable intervention approach might be chosen:

What this Means For KAIZEN

Advancing compliance outcomes (ex. quality, safety, environmental, regulatory) requires an overarching shift from reactive, piecemeal interventions to a total systems approach.

Kaizen is an intervention approach to change things for the better. Although typically applied to address small issues in a short period of time it is not limited to one time or continuous improvements at the line and process level.

For KAIZENs to be effective at the system level practitioners will benefit from using a diverse set of methodologies to implement improvement interventions.

Total Systems Intervention (TSI) provides a systems approach to assist in determining what methodology to use to address "system sized problems" (i.e. "messes"). It affords organizations a framework to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of intervention methodologies which is of particular value to risk and compliance programs with respect to policy development and improvement.

I will be exploring TSI in more detail along with other systems methodologies along with their application with risk and compliance programs in upcoming blog posts.


[1] Total Systems Intervention: A Practical Face to Critical Systems Thinking

[2] R. L. Flood-Total Systems Intervention (TSI): a Reconstitution, 1995

[3] Jackson, 2010; Reynolds et al., 2010

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