Series: Are you stuck in a rabbit hole…? – Introduction

This series is all about transforming from one way of working to another, but where the new way of working, actually is not working as expected, or stated. The series is general and covers all way of working, but some extra effort is put on new product development, due to its high complexity, since severe problems can arise, if this high complexity level is not understood.

The new way of working, can be a new method, a framework, or a mix of many different methods or frameworks, traditional or brand-new ones, or self-invented. The new way of working can also be a result of solving the problems in the current way of working. It does not really matter how we achieve our new way of working. The only thing that is important is that our way of working fulfils the purposes of our organisation, like;

  • The right product or service
  • The right quality (the product or service right)
  • Fast to market
  • Low-cost product development/service and/or production
  • Inexpensive product or service to produce

And as a result of the above we will achieve; a good economy, healthy employees and a flourishing culture.

A purpose is an object to be reached; a target; an aim; a goal, but should not be mixed up with effect. An effect is the result or outcome of a cause, which instead is similar to an unknown consequence of a cause or an intervention.

This means that if our purpose is to be fast to market, we should not state that the effect we want to have is to be fast to market, since our focus should be on that our way of working is fulfilling our purposes. It is not about that we are hoping for an effect, rather that we must secure that our way of working fulfils the purposes. And if we have problems with fulfilling our purposes, we have caused the problems ourselves, the problems are caused problems. We then need to fix our problems in our way of working as soon as possible, which simply means to fulfil the organisational principles we have violated, i.e. solve the root causes. This also yields if we are transforming to a completely new way of working, it must also solve the unsolved root causes, which Dr. Russell Ackoff referred to as dissolution of problems: “Dissolution involves design. Solution involves research. We don’t recognize design as a way of dealing with problems, that’s superior even to research.” [1]. Ackoff also stated, already in the 1990s, that failing methods and frameworks, which he called panaceas, all have in common that they are anti-systemic [2]. This is why they do not work, which means that dissolution of problems is needed to make them work, where organisational problem-solving to fulfil the organisational principles will do the work, which is a systematic approach to a systemic learning.

If a way of working, a method or a framework, does not work in an organisation, there will for sure be symptoms and most probably also consequences. In this series it will be referred to that symptoms are related to problems that are directly generated by the malfunctioning way of working. When a way of working is malfunctioning, we can make a traditional root cause analysis on the symptoms, to get to the root causes. Consequences on the other hand are problems related to our own human behaviour that occurs when something does not work, which can lead to problematic social situations, and may not always be brought up when collecting the problems. Therefore, it sometimes can be of use to do a consequence analysis as well, looking at what can happen on the human side when things do not work or do go wrong. By doing that, we can estimate the consequences of human behaviour when the way of working is malfunctioning, which we sometimes of course need to accept to some degree. But worse is, if the way of working is malfunctioning, but protected, where master suppression techniques then will be needed in order to defend it, almost endless consequences will be generated due to bad human behaviour. This entanglement of symptoms and consequences is a deeply problematic social situation, where Peter Checkland [3], the father to the Soft Systems Methodology, rejected any attempt to understand problematic social situations in scientific terms. Checkland’s statement goes hand in hand with, that consequences themselves are not possible to directly solve. So, when we have neglected and protected the solution of the root causes, consequences will be generated from the symptoms as above. This leads to that our organisation with all symptoms and consequences, will be a very dark and surrealistic place to be in, which is where rabbit holes, the name of this series, come into the picture.

We will start focusing on the details about symptoms first. If the root causes to the symptoms are not solved, the chains of symptoms are never-ending, where different root causes and different mixes of root causes, will give different chains of symptoms. The symptoms will most probably have multiple pop-ups all over the organisation, anywhere and anytime, even years later. With the same unsolved root causes, the chains of symptoms will contain pretty much the same symptoms in different domains, even though we cannot know their exact order of appearance. And if we try to solve a symptom, the “solution” will be like a generator of even more symptoms, more rabbit holes with multiple pop-ups. And if we continue trying to solve symptoms, the flow of new symptoms is never-ending as well.

Here is a picture showing chains of symptoms:

Regarding the consequences on the other hand, there will always be some of them, as always in a human system. But they will grow tremendously, when employees are flagging for seen problems with the new method or framework in the light of weak leadership, which means winking at the actual root causes to the problems within the organisation. If something cannot be explained why it is working, or it can be clearly seen that it does not work, people will react, which means that master suppression techniques are needed, which from start will be subtle. For example, if the managers start to accept master suppression techniques; listen too much to persons of high status, do not listen to facts or science, listen too much to good talk, do not understand the new way of working, others, or a mix, they will lose more and more of their common sense. The later that the employees understand and start to flag for the seen problems, the more the master suppression techniques already have been rooted with suppressed common sense and therefore the new normal culture. The more common sense the managers lose, the more master suppression techniques will slowly be accepted, which in turn will generate worse and worse consequences. If the root causes were winked at from the beginning, the total loss of common sense over time soon means bounties on employees flagging for that the root causes are still there, or that new ones are generated with the new way of working. If the managers do not recover, the organisation will deteriorate, due to a never-ending chain of consequences. This will make the organisation slowly turn to a terrible place to be in, sooner or later reaching an internal meltdown, due to all consequences, ie. Checkland’s problematic social situation, discussed above. This is definitely not the desired culture, pointing at that we can never wish for a culture.

Throughout the series, it will be more and more clear, why we cannot put up values on the wall, i.e. why it is impossible to “wish” for a culture. Each consequence can as for a symptom, also be seen as a surrealistic place, also a rabbit hole. The managers’ recovery is the only way for the organisation to stop the impossibility of trying to solve symptoms, and instead start to find and solve the root causes. This in turn will stop all chains of symptoms and consequences, and we can now also start to heal our wounds, that the consequences have generated. By solving the root causes, we instead have a good chance of achieving a well-functioning way of working, and becoming a flourishing organisation.

Here is a picture of how chains of consequences can look like:

But, how can we get a new way of working, that we know will fulfil our purposes of our organisation? First, we need to understand the theory (science) behind, which goes for any practice, way of working, method or framework, or as Dave Snowden states “Theory should always inform practice” [4] or as Deming states “To copy is to invite disaster” [5]. This means that we always need to understand why a way of working does work and also in which context, which is not at all different from the need to understand when it does not work in a certain context. Which in turn of course means that it does not help to use effect talk, measured effects, counterfactual conditions, sub-methods disguised as homemade “principles”, or everybody-else-uses-it talk, when a new method or framework is presented. Only a practice built on theory, and of course all other available science for products, can take our rocket to the moon. The theory behind (science behind organisational principles) why a way of working is functioning in our context is a necessity, otherwise it should be sorted out as a fake method, since no evidence have been presented on why it even should work.

Change management normally means hard work, with the change managers as part of the transformation, helping the managers and the employees to change to the new way of working. There are many available change management methods [6] helping the change managers, where some of the most famous are Kotter’s 8-step Process and The Prosci ADKAR model. And if we can also can explain theoretically (with help of the needed science, the organisational principles for organisations) why the new way is working, the transformation will be very much easier, a Walk in the Park. But, when instead transforming to a new way of working that is malfunctioning, the change management will sooner or later be a totally Walk in the Dark, an impossible mission, no matter what change management method that is used. The reason for this is that the first question; ”why is this new way of working functioning in our context?” is omitted, and the concentration is on another why with the answer; “sense of urgency”, why we must make the transformation. That this former why question is omitted, is kind of interesting. Research [6] has for a long time pointed out that failure for a successful transformation often depends on that the underlying problems when making the transformation is not fully understood. This in turn means that the root causes have not been found, which instead means trying to solve symptoms, which is impossible. This makes the situation for the change managers especially exposed, which may lead to severe consequences for them, even though they are only messengers. This will also will be clearer for every rabbit hole in the series.

If we look at the total picture of symptoms, consequences and change management, it looks like this:

All the multiple pop-ups of a rabbit hole at different parts of the organisation, for symptoms or consequences, will of course generate a 3-dimensional picture of the problems, the symptoms and consequences. This entanglement shows that all the problems are connected, and trying to solve a symptom or consequence, will apart from its impossibility, quite clearly also show that it will be a sub-optimisation.

Finally, if we look at Toyota (Lean is the name of the interpretation of Toyota’s way of working), and digging deep into their values and principles, Toyota state themselves that Jidoka (problem-solving) is their main focus together with JIT (Just-In-Time). This means that Toyota has a built-in thinking for self-repairing of the total way of working. Kaizen (continuous improvement) is the most well-known Toyota thinking from Lean, but it originates from improving processes in production, not solving problems in an organisation’s way of working. With organizational problems, the Jidoka thinking is needed, to find and solve the root causes. Note that when we have organisational problems, Kaizen with for example PDCA cycles can never help us, which unfortunately is a very common thinking today, especially within scaling agile frameworks. Trying to make small local improvements when having severe unsolved root causes on the wholeness, only means that we are trying to solve symptoms, which means sub-optimization as well. This only leads to even more rabbit holes as stated earlier.

This was the introduction blog post to the rabbit hole series and throughout the series, the entanglement of all the rabbit holes, will be more and more obvious. In next blog post it is time for our first visit to one of the rabbit holes. Welcome.

 

[1] Ackoff, Russell Lincoln. Presentation film, at 1.02.31 min. Link copied 2018-11-15.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbLh7rZ3rhU

[2] Ackoff, Russell Lincoln. Article. Link copied 2018-12-15.
https://thesystemsthinker.com/a-lifetime-of-systems-thinking/

[3] Snowden Dave, Blog post. Link copied 2021-06-23.
Naturalising narrated – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[4] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2021-05-23.
Bad titles and the need for theory to inform practice – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[5] The Deming Institute. Quotes by Dr. Deming. Link copied 2019-08-07.
https://quotes.deming.org/authors/W._Edwards_Deming/quote/4750

[6] Wikipedia. Change management. Link copied 2021-05-23.
Change management – Wikipedia

Leave a Reply