The SOSD method – Top-down synthesis

Top-down synthesis means that we always need to start from our organizational purpose (top), when we are making our new way of working, no matter context; production (clear context) or product development (complex context). If we have a big organization, we probably need to have several levels (down) of people working. For every level we need to synthesize to a united and unified whole from the prior analysis of the steps we need for our way of working. These steps are strongly connected to the life cycle of our product, as well as to be sure that we are fulfilling our organizational principles (the science), which all together is our systems design of our new way of working. Remember also that SOSD is never more prescriptive than needed regardless context, leaving the knowledge of the domain to the organization. Adding the domain is the last step to make the way of working (for example TDSD for software), to the people who know themselves and their domain the best; the organization itself.

From the method SPPA, we will through the problem picture analysis done, get the root causes. But if we for a moment start to reflect about our built-in root causes, we realise that they never can be directly solved, since they are non-fulfilled science. This means that our new way of working need to fulfil our organizational principles and by doing that, to eliminate (dissolve) our problems. This also means that our new systems design of our way of working, also will be a synthesis, consequences of the principles, our organizational principles, put together. It does not matter if the root causes are due to that we are not fulfilling the built-in limitations within ourselves, i.e., science about our cognitive limitations, or that activities need to be done in a certain order, the complexity need to be reduced, i.e., science for the activities. Of course, we need to fulfil all our organizational principles for the full life cycle of our product, in the context that we are operating in.

This means that to be able to eliminate our problems, we always need to do a new systems design of our way of working, which can be small local changes or big global changes on the whole way of working. Remember also that our organizational principles are already there, so we do not need to explore, in order to reduce any disciplinary complexity, i.e., we do not need any new knowledge in the depth of any of the disciplines. And this is exactly what Dr. Russell Ackoff meant when he talked about dissolve a problem, we need to redesign the system instead (in our case the organisation’s way of working). This is why understanding systems design is vital when developing a new way of working, not only for developing products. And as you also realise, change the way of working in organisations, is exactly what many methods have tried the last 70 years, which Ackoff refers to as panaceas, or anti-systemic, already 30 years ago. It is described in detail, going through many of the different methods, in this blog post series, where no one of the commercial ones he mentions, has been successful.

So, what do these anti-systemic methods do wrong. The way of working in the organization can never be built on hypotheses that is neither analysed nor fulfilling our organizational principles. What is also important to add is that we people are what we are. This means that we need to make our way of working so it is supporting our cognitive abilities, which is a very important part of our organizational principles, that need to be understood. People can of course make mistakes including Murphy’s law (normal problems), which indirectly means that we always can make our processes clearer, to reduce the number of normal problems. We therefore need to use SPPA, so we can divide the organizational root causes from the normal root causes. Otherwise, we will continue to blame people for not having the right mindset, the organization not having the right culture, etc. By doing our problem picture analysis, we will soon understand that people are never the wrong ones in themselves, meaning that if we have the right competence, skills and experiences and we still fail without mistakes being done, we need to fix our way of working. Here is a picture in a .pdf file, that will try to explain what happens when not doing a proper synthesis, including no analysis and no fulfilment of our organizational principles, in more detail; no analysis – no design – false synthesis. For this and the coming pictures, A red box means a failing organizational way of working, a green box means success, and a grey box means an invalid combination.

From start we thought our organization was doing well, but actually we were in the Chaotic domain according to the Cynefin framework, so the initial start condition is a red explosion of chaos in the left top corner, an invalid combination, since no system will work properly when our organizational principles are not fulfilled. In the Confused domain of the Cynefin framework is the place where we do our analysis, since we have no control of our situation. And as you can see in this red box of Confused, today’s methods and frameworks do not do the needed job. They (almost) never analyse an organisation’s problem, and never deep enough (since they never even ask for the problems within the organization), and therefore it is impossible to find the organisational root cause(s), which they do not know either, making it difficult least to say. This directly means that the methods and frameworks do not analyse themselves, meaning that the problems of the organization can still remain, and even worse, the methods and frameworks can introduce more problems, without (further) notice. This means that an organization will be inefficient and ineffective and constantly on the edge to chaos, without really understanding it, see pictures in this blog post. And without finding the root cause(s), we have no new input for a systems design of our organization, that eliminates the root cause(s) and still fulfils all other organizational principles. We can in these cases only make a false synthesis (a kind of “aggregation” in this case, since not even a hypothesis for our new systems design is made) on chance for our new way of working in the organisation. This means we are once again making a way of working that is mal-functioning, but this time we know that it will not work, so we are from now on, lost in the left bottom box. This means a Walk in the Dark, where we can loop for eternity, since we will never leave the bottom right red box, without eliminating the root cause(s) first. Without solving the root causes, it means we are trying to solve symptoms, which is nothing else then what we on a daily basis call sub-optimization.

The only way to leave the chaos and confusion, and instead successfully reach the top right corner, is to head for the root cause(s), the reason for organisational problems. Here below as a .pdf file, analysis with SPPA.

The picture shows the same start conditions as the first picture. We think our organization is working well, but actually we are in the Chaotic domain according to the Cynefin framework, with an explosion of chaos. The Confused domain of the Cynefin framework, is the place where we do our analysis, and this time we do it properly with help of our method Systemic Problem Picture Analysis- SPPA. This makes it possible to find the built-in organizational root cause(s) (and the root causes to normal problems as well), and we understand that our system was wrong and no mistakes had been done (no normal problems found). So, now we make our systems design and synthesis (integration) to eliminate the root cause(s), and of course still fulfil all other organizational principles. By doing this, we successfully end up in the top right corner with our systemic solution of a new way of working. We end up with this picture, organizational problems are eliminated with SOSD.

This is the only way to do it, to redesign the system by making a new systems design of our way of working, which instead will give us a sunny Walk in the Park. With changed conditions, market changes or people with special skills, competence and experience quit, we may unintentionally alter our way of working so that our organizational principles no longer are fulfilled, leaving us in the same Confused box again. But, by continually applying SPPA and to remember that we cannot change our way of working without still fulfilling our organizational principles, we will only be short periods in that box, minimising the risk that small problems escalate to big ones.

Our adaptiveness as humans, makes our organisation a human complex adaptive system, which means that we in many situations will get some degraded outcome from an organization even with built-in problems, which root cause(s) not originate from the Complex or Complicated domain. This is the explanation to the reason why it is easier to have surviving low performance organizations in a Clear context like production, but more seldom in product development. Because in production, problems can will normally lead to expensive products with bad quality, but for product development, when having non-fulfilled organizational principles for the Complex domain, the product developed will maybe not even start.

But do not forget, at the same time our adaptiveness can of course never solve our organisational problems (symptoms and consequences), because it is impossible to solve them. So, not even our adaptiveness can solve the symptoms and consequences, since they are impossible to solve, meaning that we need to redesign our way of working in order to get rid of them. This means that every time our organization does not fulfil our organizational principles, we have built-in root causes. They will in turn generate symptoms and consequences, that only will increase and get nastier, if we try to solve the them directly, i.e., sub-optimization.

As earlier stated, from the purpose of the organization we will get the context, often referred to in the Cynefin framework as; Clear, Complicated or Complex. The context will give us the organizational principles that is specifically valid for this context. But remember that all principles always need to be fulfilled for a flourishing organization, so we need to be vigilant for context shifts, or special cases occurring within in our current context. This can mean that we sometimes may need to apply methods from other contexts which we are not used to, i.e., other organizational principles to fulfil. With a continual use of SPPA, we will be able to be proactive and recognize context shifts early, even if they normally are very rare if we have not made a context shift on purpose, i.e., going from a Clear to a Complex context. One apt example nowadays is when finance, banks, insurance companies, retail and governments are shifting from buying their software systems, to instead themselves make the development of them, which is a clear shift from a Clear to a Complex context, meaning a totally different way of working.

Next blog post in this series about SOSD, is dissecting WHY we need to plan our way of working from the organizational purpose, and what that implicates.

That was all, c u soon again :-).

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