Welcome to the System Collaboration Blog Book!
This blog post is the introduction, as well as a concentrated summary, regarding the need of System Collaboration. The blog book also thoroughly elaborates on this new thinking about how to deal with organisational problems*, and also presents the already well-known theory and science behind it, which most of it is common sense. I hope that you will find this blog book interesting, because I can promise you that it will give you new insights and a deep understanding of the way of working in your organisation, or regarding any way of working. And when you have that deep understanding, you will always start to ask why when you have an organisational problem. You will also always begin to ask why someone’s panacea (method or framework) will solve your organisation’s problems, when someone tries to sell you a new the universal method or framework. And by asking why, you will easily rumble the correctness of the answer, if the solution only tries to solve symptoms, which is the most common.
And we really need to get rid of our organisational problems, since even though hundreds of new methods and frameworks have been presented to organisations the latest five decades, the same organisational problems are still around. The reason is, according to Dr. Russell Ackoff stated in the middle 1990s, that they all are anti-systemic, which means that they are sub-optimising. This means that we need to be very vigilant regarding methods or frameworks that plead universality, since aside from that they may not be universal, the risk is high that they most certainly do not include any problem-solving of itself. This in turn means that the methods and framework indirectly are hiding that they are truly anti-systemic, by not letting the organisation dig into its organisational problems, i.e., the organisation cannot find out if the method or framework really are appropriate for their organisation. Another approach, or in a combination with the former ones, is to “hide” the anti-systemicness, by saying that the method or framework will take 5-10 years to implement, which means that no one will be looking for built-in deficiencies from start. Here we instead need to make our own critical reflections. Organisational problems definitely have strong negative effects on our efficiency and effectiveness, which is stated in one of Dr. W. Edwards Deming many quotes :
A bad system will beat a good person every time.
The best way to digest the information, knowledge and insights and get the deep understanding in this blog book, is to read the blog posts, chapter by chapter. This introductory blog post can be seen as the introductory chapter, and other blog posts as later chapters, many times connected as different series, i.e. sub-chapters. Here is a Reading proposal tree on how to read the blog book:
The right branch is the problem-solving branch, where you can read all about organisational problem-solving, the practice and the theory behind. The left branch on the other hand is the path to understanding the organisational principles, that any method and framework need to follow in order to work properly for a given context. A context can for example be complex like product development, or clear like production, not to mix up with that they both need educated, skilled and experienced staff. The blog posts in the left and the right branch, also points at blog posts in the middle branch, which consist of deep dives into theory as well as detailed examples.
At the end of every blog post the link to the next “chapter” according to above reading proposal, or to a deep dive or detailed example can be found, with clickable links. Within every blog post, there is also links to other blog posts in the blog book for a deep dive in a special subject, as well as references to books, other blogs and internet pages.
A list and links to the blog posts and series of blog posts in order of appearance can also be found at the end of this blog post.
The blog book’s mission
This quote is what System Collaboration nail down to:
A root cause is easy to solve, because it is not rocket science.
But, not even rocket science can solve a symptom.
This means, that if we are trying to solve symptoms, we will sub-optimise our organisation, and no one wants that to happen, that is simply common sense. To solve root causes instead of symptoms will look transcendental, since trying to solve symptoms is the normal approach if we look at current methods and frameworks offered to today’s organisations. These methods and frameworks never ask why on the problems within an organisation. The tricky part here is to know what is clearly a root cause, because they are the only ones that we can solve when dealing with complex adaptive systems. And by the way, we of course need to have the right granularity. We do not want to dig too deep into complexity theory, human science, logic, etc., rather only to the level of our limitations as specie that have co-evolved with the environment for millions of years.
Complex Adaptive Systems, (CASs)
All organisations are Complex Adaptive Systems. They are striving for a structured way of working, in order to reduce complexity, to be efficient and effective to meet the market. Evolution has given us humans the prerequisites as a specie to solve problems in a structured and organised way, and human science gives us also the numbers valid for building our organisations, which consist of people solving activities. All of our time on earth, this has been needed in order for us to survive as specie by first solving different activities in families and then later, in bigger tribes consisting of many families.
Any organisation is aimed for solving problems in their business and make the customers happy. But, in the same way as the products or service the organisation makes, need to follow natural laws (principles), an organisation as the complex adaptive system** it is, also need to follow principles in human science, which to a great extent is pure common sense. As can be seen in the reading proposal above, the series of our common sense is also the first recommended series of blog posts to read, due to its importance and that it is easy to fall back on to understand the later series of blog posts.
The set of organisational principles
This blog book’s mission, is to give the readers a deep understanding of the necessity of knowing this set of principles, the building blocks, that effects the way of working in our organisations. Because, only if this set of principles is followed, the ones needed within the context of the organisation, an organisation can properly flourish. And the set of principles can only have these principles needed, since they are principles that science already has found (fact) at least since many decades. So, we cannot have more principles. Not fewer principles. And definitely not home-made principles that are more and more common today in some methods and frameworks.
Finding this set of principles means that we then, and only then, deeply can understand our organisation and therefore can make changes to the better. And this is really what System Collaboration is all about; a collaboration with the system, so we are fulfilling our set of principles. This means that we successfully can collaborate within the system and with the outside of the system, the market.
The mission is also to find this set of principles that will make our organisation flourish when it meets the market of today and tomorrow. A set of principles that are valid for any organisation, regardless of business, and that can manage any context. The principles will be referred to as the what. Mind that the what are not best practice, it is beyond best practice, since we must follow our set of principles regardless the organisation’s business.
The granularity level of our principles is very important, so we can connect them to our evolutionary prerequisites as a specie for problem-solving and build on the current findings made by human science*** . This means that our principles will be built on what is already in our DNA, no matter what our organisation is doing or what people we have in the organisation, which means the granularity level of people and activities. Violating the principles means that our organisation will not flourish, since we then are trying to fight against nature, which will mean fail. This is the reason for many fails in today’s silo organisations, we are frankly violating our own evolutionary prerequisites****.
Our Root causes
When having organisational problems, System Collaboration also here leans on already proven science, on fundamental facts:
- The problems seen by the employees within the organisation
- These problems are only symptoms of something deeper rooted
- Symptoms cannot be directly solved
- Only root causes can be solved (but, there are many different solutions)
By following these facts, we can find the root causes and solve them, which means that our way of working is changed, we are redesigning the system, to achieve System Collaboration. This means that we successfully can collaborate within the system and with the outside of the system, the market.
Redesigning the system, is referred to as Dissolution of problems, which the pre-complexity guru Dr. Russell Ackoff  talked warmly about. Then the problems (symptoms) no longer exist, they are dissolved, or as he stated it:
Only through design do you deal with the
whole and move through the parts.
Dr. Russell Ackoff
And a collaboration with our system, is to fulfil our set of principles, or solve the root causes (which simply are the negated principles), to our organisational problems. Remind that the practice of finding the root causes is universal and not context dependent, it is only the solution that is context dependent. But, if we instead try to solve the symptoms and continue to think that dissolution of problems is transcendental, we will continue to fight our system and nature as well, and we will lose. Every time.
Our Prefilled Root Cause Analysis Map
When come so far, the mission is also to find the Prefilled Root Cause Analysis Map for organisations of any kind. Then it is also possible to deeply understand why parts of a way of working for an organisation, method or framework, is malfunctioning or really is not good enough, and also to be able to fix it, without any risk of sub-optimising. This will also give many new insights, easy to understand, but some of them may be very hard to accept. For example these two blog posts show that Process Cycle Efficiency calculations and WIP Limits in Agile Development are sub-optimising the organisation, because they try to solve symptoms, instead of asking why to find the real root causes.
Finally, when we put all together, we can solve all organisational problems***** that depends on the way of working, by changing the system so our set of principles are fulfilled, i.e. Dissolution of problems in Complex Adaptive Systems. We frankly re-build the system to fulfil our set of principles, what the organisation is capable to do according to our prerequisites as specie. By doing this, we can easily fulfil our set of principles, and our organisation can flourish.
The system start definition
All organisations, or any human system, can in short be defined as; “People that interact to solve activities with interdependencies”. With this granularity, as mentioned above, used when we are searching for our set of principles needed for problem-solving, we are able to take advantage common sense and also our evolutionary prerequisites that has been found so far in human science. This granularity level also complies with the fact that in complexity theory it is stated that in a human complex system the interactions are the more important than the actions. As humans we have during millions of years co-evolved with the environment about how to solve activities (problems), as well as to handle dependencies and interdependencies between the activities. With this granularity we will therefore not go into depth of what kind of people we have (regarding motivation, intention, attitude, identity, etc.) or what kind of activity we have (product, production, service, etc.). The principles will therefore only regard our problem-solving abilities and will also be totally context independent (context-free), both of them are key.
This start organisation definition will be our starting point for adding the necessary principles to our total organisation definition, since we do not want to clog our system with any principles that are not beneficial to our organisation, by the high risk of violating our own evolutionary prerequisites. We only need the set of principles that will make our organisation flourish.
The necessity of understanding the history of organisational work
In order to further understand which principles that are necessary, we of course need to look at the market, always with respect to human science and common sense. But, we need not only to understand the situation of the organisations and the market of today, we also need to look at their closely interwoven history. If we do not also understand the history when we are looking for our principles, we introduce some big risks, especially when we are changing the way of working:
1. We discard everything that is old, the whole Body Of Knowledge of the old way of working, since we do not really know what parts that was good and what parts that was bad.
2. We cannot explain for the employees why we need to discard all the old.
3. We cannot fully explain why we are transforming to this new way of working and not a different one, and why we don’t just adapt our current way of working.
As you can see, the above is more or less about acceptance, and we really need to be able to explain our changes in the organisation for our people, which will make the change, following Kotter’s 8 steps or some other change method, much easier with more people accepting the change.
Today we have a transformation wave rolling, discarding more or less everything of the old way of working. The risks above will also make a transformation to a new way of working difficult and the worst is that we won’t have a clue if it will be successful or not. Especially if some parts of the organisation, with a totally different context, most probable are directly non-favourable to the change to a “one-size-fits-all” solution.
So, if we instead understand why organisations reacted and how they reacted to the changes of the market over the years, then we to a fuller extent can understand what principles that are useful. If we do not understand the why in more depth, the risk is that we introduce changes to our way of working that are inappropriate, omit important parts or introduce changes that cause trouble. This can easily put us in a situation where we do not understand why we sometimes are successful and sometimes not, even though the circumstances looked the same.
So, knowing our history is key and one of the first series of blog posts that should be read.
The Cynefin™ Framework
Throughout the blog book, the Cynefin™ framework, a complexity framework, by Dave Snowden will be referred to, being a well-known, highly accepted and open framework. It pinpoints the importance of understanding the context and deliberate and accidental context switches. See the presentation of the framework by Dave Snowden himself.
The context is important
When we are learning from the history, we will not only understand more and more of the principles and why we need them. We will also understand more and more where in the organisation we will get the most benefit of the changes and where we must not do any change at all. We also need to find out when we need to work differently depending on context. An example is product development with many context switches in its Product value flow.
By understanding why, what, where and when, the organisations can themselves understand and take control of their way of working. They will understand whether it is necessary to make changes only in some parts of the organisation, or if a bigger transformation of the whole organisation is required. Since the organisations have the best knowledge about their own businesses, they can themselves do also the details of the transformation, the methods, the practice, the how. This is very different from copying someone else. Best practice should never be used, which Dave Snowden is very clear about :
No country (or company) has succeeded by copying a prior success story. They learn from those, but then create something unique to their context. There are no recipes here and words like best practice should be banned from strategy.
Best practice, copying is never possible
When looking for our set of principles that will build our flourishing organisation, it becomes obvious that many methods and frameworks use principles incorrectly. They state principles that are only sub-optimising the work inside the organisation, i.e. trying to solve symptoms originating from the method’s and framework’s own bad or non-existing principles. I call these so-called principles for Sub-optimising principles. Due to that they are stated as needed, and it really looks like they are needed, they are really treacherous.
Another way to put it is that negated good consequences become symptoms and negated good principles become root causes in a root cause analysis. So, emanating from the set of principles we are looking for, it is possible to make a powerful Prefilled Root Cause Analysis Map for organisations***** that was mentioned above, with symptoms, root causes and their connections******. On the top of the map we will write the problem description we will have if the market need cannot be met, then we ask why, why, why, until we have found all our root causes. This map clearly shows an organisation’s problems and what to do about them. We do not even need to do a root cause analysis, which many times are difficult, since it is easy to find only one root cause and then stop, or to find a root cause that is inside another part of the organisation’s jurisdiction, and not take care of it. In the Prefilled Root Cause Analysis Map, we just colour the symptoms and the root causes in for example green, yellow and red and then we can see the prosperity level of our part of the organisation or the total organisation directly, depending on where we set the borders. We can both find and know how to remove our sacred cows!
Another thing that will be handled in the blog is the importance of having a transformation strategy to achieve the new way of working. Either the transformation can start with a small team and scale out to more teams on the same level, and then scale up, to make a system. Or it can start with the system and its parts and sort of ‘scale down’, while dividing the parts into smaller pieces. Both of them with their pros and cons. And of course, any solution in between.
But, remember that asking why on the problems, will make the employees understand what need to be done according to all different contexts within the organisation. Understanding why will simply give our people the right thinking, to be able themselves to do the changes needed. This means that the change can start all over the organisation, since we will solve the root causes to our organisational problems.
In the transformation strategy lies of course also the maintaining of the current customer deliveries and avoiding that the old measurements are not sub-optimising the introduction of the new way of working.
What’s in it for me? – HR’s role in a transformation
The consequences of the transformation are also important aspects. For example, the question “What’s in it for me?” needs to be taken care of. Consequently, HR’s role in a transformation is of utterly importance to any transformation. Even if the employees understand the why, they will still need to feel comfortable about their own future in the organisation also after the transformation.
To get many perspectives
There are also a variety of topics with similarities and differences from different businesses, domains and contexts, which together give an important understanding of how to build flourishing organisations, that delight the customers. Other topics that also are covered are:
• Take real control of your queues in Agile development – Mean queues and Lean queues
• Why WIP constraints are excellent in production, but sub-optimising in agile development
• Resource efficiency vs flow efficiency – and their very close connection
• Working sequential or parallel – which is best?
• The powerful Prefilled Root Cause Analysis Map
• Value Stream Mapping – sequential vs complex
• Why Flow Efficiency measurements in agile development can be treacherous
These topics will be alternated with the common thread of the blog.
And in the end with all the needed pieces for System Collaboration in place, and all what that imply, maybe there is only a few different organisational solutions possible. Here is where our methods come into the picture, especially valid for product development that consist of software in big companies with big system products, which all together goes under the name TDSD – Test Driven Systems Design.
The most important when changing the way of working is always that we understand that everything depends on context, in order to understand why and what changes we need to do where in our organisation. Understanding the context is always key in order to not let go of the control. Thrilling, right? So, until we found out how to transform our organisation, we cannot give up:
Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.
Welcome to be part of the journey.
Next “chapter” according to the reading proposal tree is the series of blog posts about the necessity of common sense while doing a transformation to another way of working.
List of blog posts and series so in order of appearance in this blog:
- Blog Introduction (this blog post)
- The way of working history, part 1-5
- Time to dig into our principles
- Our first principles
- The beauty of negating our principles to become root causes
- Elaboration of queues
- Principles from “activities with interdependencies”, part 1-3
- The Product Value Flow in the Cynefin™ framework, part 1-4
- Principles from “People that interact”, part 1-3
- Principles from “to solve”, part 1-8
- Now we have a quite good set of principles 🙂
- Our set of principles give us great opportunities
- Human science, part 1-2
- Now we have completed our set of principles for a flourishing organisation 🙂
- What our set of principles implicate and not implicate…, part 1-3
- Our total organisation definition for a flourishing organisation
- Sequential or parallel work – which is best?, part 1-6
- Flow efficiency, part 1-5
- Solving complex problems in software development, part 1-6
- Aggregation vs Integration
- WIP inventories are great Flow Efficiency enablers in Lean Production
- Finding the root causes to queues
- WIP Limits in Agile development are sub-optimising our organisation
- Finding the root causes to too many people in the projects
- Organisational Clogging, part 1-7
- The New New Product Development Game article in our set of princ., part 1-5
- Dissolution of problems in Complex Adaptive Systems, part 1-2
- The continuation of filling in the Prefilled Root Cause Analysis Map, part 1-10
- Our ability to solve problems
- Our completed Prefilled Root Cause Analysis Map
- Dr. Russell Ackoff’s list of antisystemic (sub-optimising) methods, part 1-8
- How to boost your organisational problem-solving ability, part 1-9
- The first trembling steps towards Our Method, part 1-5
- The importance of having the same vocabulary, part 1-4
- Transforming your organisation with common sense, part 1-6
- The pillars of Lean thinking, values and principles, part 1-3
- Are you stuck in a rabbit hole series
*the new thinking and practice is derived transdisciplinary and comes from many different domains and disciplines; hardware, software, project management, computer science, complexity, non-complexity, chaos, programming, testing, verification, validation, architecture, system responsibility, uncertainty, engineering, human science, building houses, statistics, root cause analysis, silo organisations, traditional waterfall way of working, Lean Production, Lean Product Development, Agile software development, Value Stream Mapping, Flow Efficiency, Resource Efficiency, history, and many, many more domains and disciplines, within the fields of human science, natural science, mathematics, etc. As Dr. Russell Ackoff put it : “Proving the obvious thing. That changes in the field are never produced by experts. But, from outsiders, looking at the field.”. And since this is about transdisciplinarity, we look generally at many fields at the same time, as analytic generalists.
**one definition of a system is from English Oxford living dictionaries ;
“a set of principles according to which something is done”
***a branch of study which deals with people or their actions, including the human sciences  and the humanities , as contrasted with the natural sciences or physical sciences.
****Since the principles take our evolutionary prerequisites into account, the principles to a great extent are “evolutionary principles”, that all human systems need to follow in order to flourish. From human science we already have the magic numbers 5, 15 and 150, Chinese whispers, etc., which already forms our organisations.
*****really for any human CAS (will be elaborated on in later blog posts)
******since root causes gives symptoms, that will give more symptoms, etc., the Prefilled Root Cause Analysis Map can of course never be fully completed, instead the important part is to fill it with the most common symptoms found in our organisations, since our aim is to fulfil our set of principles.
 The Deming Institute. Quotes by Dr. Deming. Link copied 2019-08-07.
 Human science. Wikipedia. Link copied 2019-02-07.
 Ackoff, Russell Lincoln. “Systems Thinking Speech by Dr. Russell Ackoff”. At 59.30 min; solving vs dissolving. Link copied 2018-08-23.
 English Oxford living dictionaries, definition #2. Link copied 2018-11-07:
 Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2018-12-14.
 Ackoff, Russell Lincoln. Presentation film, at 29.38 min.
Link copied 2018-11-21.
Systems Thinking Speech by Dr. Russell Ackoff
 Social science. Wikipedia. Link copied 2019-02-07.
 Humanities. Wikipedia. Link copied 2019-02-07.