Disclaimer: If you think principles and laws as fundamentals from science, are useless when making new methods, frameworks or getting rid of organisational problems, and we instead are better off guessing or using best practices and one size fits all thinking, this is not for you.
A bad system will beat a good person every time.
– W Edwards Deming
This blog post series is all about to get a deep understanding of why many of today’s methods and frameworks are not keeping their promises, giving a bad system that Deming is referring to above. The series will also show that many of them are actually built on sand as the only fundamental, making the organisation and its people really suffering. A special focus will in a later blog post be put on one actual very prosperous framework of today, in order to understand the fundamentals, it is standing on, if any at all.
First thing out is to have a common vocabulary, so that avoidance of misunderstandings is enforced effectively. Here are words that are used throughout the text:
- Principle  – a comprehensive and fundamental law (universal), doctrine, or assumption
- Organization  – an organized group of people with a particular purpose, such as a business or government department.
- Symptom /* – any single problem that is caused by and shows a more serious and general problem
- Root cause  – the fundamental reason for the occurrence of a problem
Today it is all too common to ignore organizational principles, where most of them are also common sense, when discussing how to get rid of organisational problems. Common sense that we humans have built up during 100.000 years. Instead, is referred to numerous different best practices, one-size-fits-all, all the effects what will be achieved according to some home-made “principles”, or just talking about the bad old and the good new ones. Common is also the use of counterfactual conditions or post-factual (post-truth) arguments, to convince us that things that never have happened or is plain wrong, suddenly have become the truth. To this list we can also add the erroneous claim, that tacit knowledge can be converted to explicit knowledge, meaning that the student directly can become the expert teacher.
Preferably a mix of all above are messed together, in order to wipe out our common sense. Another quote from Deming is appropriate:
To copy is to invite disaster
– W. Edwards Deming
It is also very uncommon that methods or frameworks consist of some problem-solving part regarding fixing systemic problems, a clearly visual problem-solving part that can fix problem within the method or framework itself so it will fit in the organisation’s context. Without a proper problem-solving part like the Systemic Problem Picture Analysis method, it is easy that is goes the other way around, trying to use another context to fit the method or framework. This also means that we need completely other approaches then the current that is now taking a strong position; only guessing or having a hypothesis-driven approach with a misuse of Continuous Improvement, when thinking about organisational problem-solving, that has high complexity. We need to rethink or as Einstein stated:
Without changing our pattern of thought, we will not be able to solve the problems we created with our current patterns of thought.
– Albert Einstein
And since the environment continuously changes, it means that the we need to accept to ourselves (or the authors of the methods or frameworks to themselves) that the system is not perfect from start or forever in any context. So, any method needs to be able to fix bugs within itself, in order to make itself better. Unfortunately, Continuous Improvement originating from production has instead become the mantra. But for other contexts more complex contexts, it not only misses that the starting point must be a standardized and stable process in a non-complex context, but also often means framing the solution to be found at the same place as the problem**, where the latter is much more severe. And the reason why problem-solving parts for systemic problems cannot be found in any commercial method or framework is understandable. Because, since the authors of the methods or frameworks are claiming that they are solving everyone’s problems, i.e., Best Practice or One-size-fits-all, admitting that fixes probably are needed to make the methods or frameworks work at all, is then clearly a flaw and very hard to sell.
The only methods that come to my mind, that takes care about problems that need both continuous (local) and systemic improvements, are Toyota Production System and Toyota Product Development System. They are both built on Toyota’s Jidoka and Continuous Improvement pillars; find all problems, understand if they are systemic or local (this order need to be followed, otherwise there is a very high risk for sub-optimisation; trying to solve symptoms), and then fix them. Continually. For a systematic approach for finding the root causes to local and systemic problems in your organization, see further down in this blog post.
Ignoring principles as the fundamentals to rely on when discussing how to solve organisational problems and instead refer to best practices, has in fact today rather become the norm, showing strong tendencies of anti-intellectualism. This is cumbersome due to the fact that best practices do not work, which is easy to show theoretically***, in this picture below, here as a pdf file; problem-solving part – symptoms and root causes. See also this blog post series about symptom and root causes for a deeper understanding, showing that the root causes are frankly only the non-fulfilled (negated) principles. And if we are leaving existing root causes, we will for sure have systemic problems giving us a systemic failure in our organization.
Practically it was presented for more than thirty years ago regarding many different methods, brought up by Dr. Russell Ackoff  as panaceas, where he pointed out that all of the panaceas showed systemic failures, which was that reason for their failure, not the implementation of it as such. Ackoff also stated that the best way to get rid of a problem in an entity (system) was to dissolve it. Dissolution of Organizational Problems  means to change the system where the problems were found or the system’s environment, and is the only way to, once for all, get rid of systemic problems.
So, ignoring principles is the same as leaving out science, which means that we are on the wrong track from start. How we put ourselves in this situation regarding our organisations is hard to explain, but for some reason we have suppressed our common sense. In worst case we have completely blanked it out with help of con men and panacea peddlers , as Ackoff put it already three decades ago.
When we instead have problems with our products, we will for sure try to find the root causes to our problems, and definitely not guess how to directly solve caused problems or symptoms, since it is clearly common sense how we will get back to an operating product again. We need to follow the science, otherwise our rocket will not land on the moon, that is common sense. Who would even think about ignoring Ohm’s law, when making the circuit boards that is controlling our rocket, or fixing problems within it? No one, simply because it is not reasonable to guess how we get our product to operate. This is also common sense about our products, since the science is obvious, not only all the universal laws and principles of physics that we cannot ignore when making our products, but also the laws of logic that we can use to find the root causes if we have caused problems within our own products. This means that we indirectly already know that a principle or law not followed will cause severe problems, where the root cause to these problems is the non-followed principle, i.e., think about Ohm’s law as an example again. A root cause is simply a negated principle, a non-followed principle. This means that a root cause is universal too, since a negation will not change universality in logic. This gives that only the solution depends on context and it is actually very good news, which we will come back to later. Here is a picture below to make it more straightforward, and here is the pdf file; problem-solving part – universality.
Important to know also is that for many of our organisational problems we cannot solve their root causes directly, especially the non-fulfilled principles regarding ourselves. If we think about it, the reason is obvious, since the root causes are that we either not taking care of our activities correctly, or many times the root causes are pointing at limitations within our own DNA, which of course is insolvable. Since we are the (most) important building blocks of our organisations, this means that the root causes to these kinds of organisational problems instead require changes to the organisations’ way of working, the structure and processes. To be able to get rid of these kinds of root causes that are inhibiting us from an awesome organisation, we instead need to dissolve the organisational problems as was brought up above. Dissolving organisational problems means that we are changing our complex adaptive system. This is done by doing a new systems design of our way of working, our organisation’s structure and processes, in order to be able to fulfil the organisational principles, regarding us humans, again.
So, why in earth do we ignore to find the root causes to our organisational problems, meaning indirectly that we are not only ignoring our common sense, but we are also ignoring the already existing science, available since at least 30 years? If you reflect about the above, that symptoms really are insolvable, it also means that nothing can solve our organisational problems directly, so why even try. Trying to solve symptoms directly, is like discussing politics, it is only about guessed opinions, because when we are not reaching the root causes, nothing is correct, only insolvable, i.e., meaning there is no right or wrong answer in the macro space and politicians can therefore have different opinions. But the difference is diametric. In politics, the opinions (about solving symptoms) are subjective, but trying to solve symptoms in organisations or products, where the root cause(s) can be found, are only unobjective, the root causes are scientific facts.
An answer to the question above, is that panacea peddlers are convincing us with their talk. They are preaching (and never showing) that all the organisational problems will be solved, putting all effort on trying to convince us that their methods have awesome effects. This without even trying to find the root causes to our problems, and most of the times not even asking for our problems. Preaching in combination with ridiculing us in front of others as the prominent master suppression method, in order to blank out our common sense, make us finally, under severe pressure, accept their panacea. And when they have successfully made us lose our common sense, we cannot see through that they are only guessing how to solve our problems, that in a normal case would not make them trustworthy.
The panacea peddlers of today have also invented more subtle strategies in order to avoid inspection of their methods, namely by referring to home-made “principles”, that the method or framework is built on. These “principles” are of course not real organisational principles and are often a mix of the following three types; small methods (methods are never universal, they are context dependent), or claiming that it is possible to optimise directly on the different output from an organisation, or even try to directly solve symptoms, where all three of them in fact are sub-optimizing, the latter one clearly. Even if these “principles” look convincing, science is of course eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 24/7.
We should also keep an eye on cross-references from one specific “principle” to other “principles” that can solve the symptoms that will occur if this “principle” is not followed. Of obvious reasons, real principles do not have this kind of references to other principles. Because, if one principle is not followed, no other principles can help to solve the upcoming symptoms from it, since the only root cause to the upcoming symptoms, is the negated principle itself. This is also the reason to why we cannot refer to human’s adaptivity when we are talking about non-fulfilled organisational principles, since no adaptivity in the world can solve symptoms, only make the organisation to hobble badly.
Yes, our human adaptivity will in most cases make us find an inefficient way to get a lousy result in an easy context, without dissolving the organisational root causes, which also is a reason to why the root causes many times are not looked for. So, even though we will suffer tremendously, it is not sure we understand that, at least not enough, since we still get some result from our organisation. But, in contexts that instead have higher complexity, like product development, we have an extremely high risk of not only making the product wrong, but also the risk of making the wrong product. This means that without dissolving the root causes to our organisational problems, the organisation will be heading for self-destruction.
Finally, regarding principles, we can state that when a “principle” needs to be explained with tonnes of text, it is for sure a fake and home-made “principle”. A real principle does not need to be convincing; it just is a scientifically proven fact that need to be followed, and most of the times it is simply common sense. This is especially clear when we talk about the activities we are solving within our organisation. If we look into our organisations, we only have people and activities to consider, making the principles few and easy to understand as well, which we will come back to later.
Another common strategy in order to diminish old methods in favour of a new fancy one, is to use counterfactual conditions (CFs) . The definition of a counterfactual is something that is contrary to the truth or that did not actually occur, meaning that at counterfactual condition is a conditional with a false if-clause (that have never happened). As you understand, this is actually the same as guessing, which means sub-optimizing, when trying the impossible, to solve symptoms as described above. Here are some common examples of CFs:
“If A had happened – which A did not – then B would have happened.”, which would in our example above become: “If this fancy new method had happened – instead of this old bad method – then we would have had this awesome result.”
“If A had happened – which A did not and therefore not B either – then B would have happened.”, which would in our example above become: “If this fancy new method had happened – instead of this old bad method giving this negative result– then we would have had this positive (opposite to the negative) result.”
“If A had happened – which A did not and therefore not B either – then C would have happened.”, which would in our example above become: “If this fancy new method had happened – instead of this old bad method giving this lousy result– then we would have had this other awesome result.”
Of course, it is not as easy as above to see through counterfactual conditions, since they are normally written in a much more confusing way, which makes it hard to see through the lame logic. And especially when they are combined with the master suppression method ridiculing and/or making us look that we have a negative attitude to this new fancy, most of us will stop questioning the method. This even though any reflexion or simple analysis would make anyone of us suspicious, clearly showing that the panacea peddlers are only guessing. One book that is discussing this matter when our objectiveness is supressed is “The Stupidity Paradox” , describing how common this actually is.
The last treacherous strategy to mention is post-factual arguments. This may not be a strategy, but more a consequence of too many counter-factual conditions, that in the end change people’s emotions and believes. A practice that looks non-complicated, but lacking theory, is easier to sell then something that looks more complicated, but is built on theory. Here is a short summary of post-factual arguments: “There is no free lunch out there.”
After having dissected many different ways of how methods are avoiding science, it is now time for getting down to the organisational principles, the fundamentals needed for our organisations.
If we go back to the definition of an organisation above, we can expand it to also consist of activities, which any organisation apparently will have, and solve. People in an organisation are solving activities that can have interdependencies, which means that we can write the following definition of an organisation that is valid for all organisations, like this:
People that interact to solve activities with interdependencies for a common purpose****.
Since this definition is valid for all organisations (as well as any part of them), the definition is universal, or context independent, where purpose is a context-free (context independent) constraint . This definition also goes well together with principles that also are universal, meaning we can add principles regarding people and activities to this definition, without changing its universality, to make an organisational definition that we need to follow, to get an awesome organisation, see this blog post for an example.
If we also go into the purpose of the organisation, we will commonly talk about the following purpose:
- The right product or service done
- The right quality (the product or service done right)
- Fast to market
- Low-cost product development/service and/or production
- Inexpensive product or service to produce
And as a result, if we are successful with the above, we will also achieve a good economy. For human complex adaptive systems, like organizations, there will also be emergent behaviour and emergent properties, which cannot be wished for, where some wanted qualities are trust, innovation, healthy employees, a flourishing culture, etc.
And as you can see, we are coming back to universality again, since this output, or purpose of an organisation, is valid for any organisation. We are simply not talking about what kind of product, what kind of activities to solve, or how our people are, meaning we never go into context. And that is not strange at all, since the fulfilment level of these different output from our organisations are effects from the way of working and taking decisions within the organisation. This means that the output is directly emanating from how the organisational principles are fulfilled. This also means that when our output is bad, meaning we have problems, we simply ask multiple why? to find the root cause(s). And as you understand hereby, asking multiple why? starting from a universal output problem to find the universal root cause(s), means that all the symptoms in between are universal too. This leads to, that since a caused problem (or symptom) is universal, it can never be stated as complex, complicated or obvious, it is just insolvable.
For you that are a lot and deep into complexity, we need to sort things out regarding the universality and of course when root causes are applicable. If we refer to the Cynefin™ Framework  by Dave Snowden, we will put all the symptoms for products or organisations in the Confused domain (former Disorder domain), not for their entanglement or their messiness, but due to the fact that they are insolvable. To use the name confused instead of disordered, is a very good change, since before a Systemic Problem Picture Analysis – SPPA is made, our picture is blurred or blurry due to all kinds of different symptoms. Blurred for organisational problems where the root causes really can be found and dissolved, since the organisation with its way of working is heading for its purposes. Blurry in other cases, for example where many different purposes (interests) from different agents within the system, makes it difficult to judge which the root causes are or how to dissolve them. It is not until we try to dissolve the root cause to our built-in problem(s), that we in the Complex domain redesign our way of working in the organization, i.e., a new systems design of our way of working. So, after finding the root causes to our problems, we will finally leave the Confused part of the Disorder domain and dissolve all the symptoms, consequences and their root causes in the Complex domain with the method Systemic Organizational Systems Design – SOSD. SPPA and SOSD really comes together in a two-part package, and for finding the organizational problems, SPPA is the starter and should be used continually to achieve proactiveness instead of reactiveness. The traditional approach is reactive, occurring when the incidents happen or to measure results from local PDCA cycles trying to verify a hypothesis at the team level, but with SPPA we do not need to wait for an incident happen or to wait until we can measure. This makes us not only proactive, it also means that we can get rid of unnecessary sub-optimization generated by probably most of these PDCA cycles, as well as a lot of measurements that neither can judge if the result was due to a sub-optimization or not.
If we instead do the WHAT directly on a problem (symptom), we will wrongly, since categorisation is not possible, put a problem in one of the Complex, Complicated or Obvious domains depending on our judgement. But the WHAT can then of course never be a solution to our original visible problem, only a clear sub-optimisation with unintended consequences (since we have no foresight). Unfortunately, exploration today, trying the impossible of solving symptoms, has become the norm, which results in A Walk in the Dark, only leading to sub-optimisation. For more information and a picture of this, please see this last blog post in the series about Dissolution of (organizational) problems.
Unintended consequences are in complexity theory stated as that there is no cause and effect in a complex system, which is shown with the general Butterfly Effect . But that does not mean that we for all complex systems have the opposite, no effect and cause. A good example of this is the Cobra Effect , where the effect never could be understood in forehand, since we have no foresight. But, where the root cause (the action (believed solution) of paying money for cobra heads) in hindsight could be understood when the cobra farms (unintended consequence) were found. So, in hindsight we have a total picture of symptoms and can then clearly ask multiple why? to connect them and get to the root cause. Because if we did not have effect and cause, it would clearly be no Cobra Effect per se. This means that the total picture of organisational symptoms is vital here. This to be able to connect the symptoms from the problem of for example bad Flow Efficiency down to its root cause(s)*****. Here is a picture showing this, and here is the pdf file; symptoms all the way down to the root causes.
The Cobra effect also clearly shows the sub-optimisation, when giving money for cobra heads, since it is only trying to solve the symptom of too many cobras already in the first place (too many according to the Englishmen). Finally, the Cobra Effect also shows that when we are trying to directly solve a symptom (too many cobras according to the Englishmen), we are on the Walk in the dark path, leading to endlessly new paths of unintended consequences. The main reason for this Walk in the dark paths, is therefore not because we do not know the consequences in forehand when we interfere with our complex system, our organisation. Instead, it depends on the fact that symptoms are always insolvable, meaning that if we try to solve (the actual interference with our system) a symptom, we will always have unintended consequences we cannot imagine in advance. Be vigilant on this difference.
We will focus on the organisational principles regarding activities, since most of the methods and frameworks are putting most of the effort trying to control them. For the principles regarding the people within our organisation, please look in this blog post, and how to dissolve problems in organisations generally, please look into this blog post. Here are the principles for activities, which is purely common sense, that except from complex contexts (maybe) were known already by the pharaohs when building the pyramids, where we need to:
- keep them in the right order (can also be in parallel)
- do incremental development if possible
- keep track of their interdependencies (including the dependencies)
- do timely integration events****** (to get timely feedback)
– to solve a complex context we need new knowledge, so we need to experiment
– to solve a complicated context we have some knowledge and need to do some experiments
– to solve an obvious context we already know exactly what to do and follow-up is enough
(to have a common vocabulary, regarding the definitions of complex, complicated and obvious, the Cynefin™ Framework by Dave Snowden is referred to )
And do not forget that we people like to make structures when we can, so we are of course not talking about Activity A, Activity B, Activity C and so on, we are categorizing our activities into Analyse, Design, Test, Document, Production, etc.
So, if we have organisational problems including our activities, it means that we have not fulfilled one or more of the principles above, which will then be the root cause(s) to our problems, since a root cause is just a non-fulfilled (negated) principle, as stated above. Very seldom there is such constraints, that we need to dissolve organisational problems regarding activities, but if there is, we need to dissolve the problems in the same way as mentioned above regarding not fulfilling our people principles, which means the same reference as above.
Remember also, that a simple Value Stream Mapping, explained here, in normal conditions easily will visualize when a method does not follow principles regarding activities and how the created problems also should be handled.
This was all about the general part, welcome back next time, when we start to dissect one prosperous method that is on everybody’s lips today.
*A symptom is always insolvable, where the 5 why? from Toyota is a classic in order to find the root cause(s) in products. For organizational problems, SPPA is the method to start with, which is finding all the root causes to the problems, built-in or normal. In both cases, we simply must ask multiple why in order to get to the root cause(s) of our problem(s).
**framing the problem means that the solutions need to be inside the same frame as the problem, a department/train/team/unit/group, i.e., a part of the organisation. Forget asking why enough times (or most of the times never ask why), is the SCQA (Situation – Complication – Question – Answer) technique in the box, and that is also literally since it is constraining the solution to be inside a frame, i.e., where the manager paying the consultant is. But root causes mostly are anywhere in the organisation, especially the most difficult ones, the systemic ones, which in these cases gives that framing the solutions within a part of the organisation, will sub-optimize per se.
***1) since a problem can have many different root causes, companies can have the same visible problems, but not the same root causes 2) many times, a company transforming to another method also makes other organisational changes that can dissolve root causes. But this dissolution is without awareness from the organisation, making it impossible to judge the method or the framework, since the root causes are not looked for in neither case, i.e., not by the method and not by the organization.
****With organizational purpose means; manufacture a product, service, develop a new product, etc., with a certain price and quality. We are not talking about the nowadays popular Purpose statement, that is only a continuation of the easy-gamed value and mission statements. In this kind of statements, behaviour, properties and core values of our employees are stated, which is more of wishful thinking, since they will only emerge from multiple interactions within the organization. Since the interactions in turn, also emerge from our way of working, one can believe that if the purpose of the organization is not fulfilled, neither will the emergent behaviour and properties of our organization be what one could wish for.
*****since the symptoms are universal too, like the root causes, there is also possible to dry swim and make a Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map from negated (not fulfilled) principles, even though the appearance of the symptoms sometimes can be in a different order. See this series of blog posts for deep information, or this blog post for a Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map showing the root causes for common problems.
******integration within one part or between many parts.
 From Merriam-Webster. Link copied 2020-01-25.
 From Lexico. Powered by Oxford. Link copied 2019-11-25.
 From Cambridge. Link copied 2020-02-10.
 From Collins. Link copied 2020-02-10.
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The list of panaceas at 03:30 min, the national surveys at 03:40 Link copied 2018-10-27.
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The quote in total below:
“The best thing that can be done to a problem is to solve it.
The best thing that can be done to a problem is to dissolve it, to redesign the entity that has it or its environment so as to eliminate the problem. Such a design incorporates common sense and research, and increases our learning more than trial-and-error or scientific research alone can.”
 Ackoff, Russell Lincoln. Biography. Link copied 2018-12-15.
 From Wikipedia. Link copied 2020-02-15
 Alvesson, M, Spicer, A, The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work, IPS Profile books. ISBN: 978-1781255414.
 Juarrero, Alicia. Presentation from the Lean WX conference, April 2015.
Constraints that Enable Innovation – Alicia Juarrero on Vimeo
 Snowden, Dave. The Cynefin™ Framework. Link copied 2018-10-04.
 Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2019-06-04.