Systems Thinking Drives Effective and Sustaining Performance Improvement

Photo at blog from webmaster - 08/10/2010 - 07:59

Recently I watched a video of John Seddon. This is remarkable, because I never did this before. But John Seddon has something to say about quality and Systems Thinking, and I want to share his ideas with you.

John started Vanguard together with some godfathers of quality like W. Edwards Deming and Taiichi Ohno in order to drive performance improvement of the services industry. He created the Systems Thinking approach. Systems Thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing "problems" as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific part, outcomes or events and potentially contributing to further development of unintended consequences. Systems thinking is not one thing but a set of habits or practices within a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. Systems thinking focuses on cyclical rather than linear cause and effect.

This is an approach to performance and quality improvement I can agree fully with. You may have read my blogs on Quality is King, which follow the same reasoning. Define your business requirements in terms of customer demand, and manage that carefully.

In the mentioned video John Seddon explains how systems thinking drives effective and sustaining performance improvement. Watching it takes about an hour, and is worth every sole minute of your full attention. To quote some of the subjects John talks about:

  • On front- and back-office
    The front office must deal with customers. Standardization in order to facilitate the back-office increases unnecessary traffic, like splitting a customer request in many standard requests for different groups in the back-office. This traffic and superfluous work-flow creates failure and waste. Only predictable actions are avoidable, which implies that only those can be managed and regulated. Therefore, optimizing the front-office can only be directed at predictable actions.
  • On value and costs
    If you manage costs, costs will go up. But if you manage value, costs will go down fast. Each combination of purpose, measure and method can be overcome, and produce unintended results. So KPI management as a goal in itself creates failure.
  • On demand and functional design
    Type and frequency of demand must be defined in terms of the customer. That defines the work, and must be dealt with in the front-office. You manage the work-flow by understanding the demand. Turning of failure demand increases value and earns money. The front-office know how much time the work takes. It is irrelevant and a waste to let advisers define how much time the work should take.

Heavy stuff! And indeed, not a path many follow. But to quote John once more: The fact that most people agree on something, does not make a lie more true. How satisfied are you with performance management? Invite Hans Lodder to determine how your performance can be improved effectively and sustainable, and discover for yourself how much you can save in a short time!


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