Lean Leadership and Systems Thinking

February 23, 2018 — Posted by Al Shalloway

This is the submission of my talk for Agile 2018. I thought it was a pretty good blog.

This talk discusses the relationship between Lean Leadership and Systems thinking.

While acknowledging the need for business stakeholders to get involved and for leadership to occur at all levels, management is still barely discussed. Perhaps not surprising sine management is not mentioned even once in the manifesto. But both the roles of leadership and management are essential. Agile's focus on the individual has had us take the focus off where it needs to be - on the organization in which the individual can thrive or not. 

The irony is we don't need to focus on people. They are already good & motivated. Management's role is to provide them a place within which to shine. This is the essence of Lean-Management. Focus on the workflow and the environment in which people can work better. In other words, create an environment within which teams can work autonomously toward the common goal of realizing business value quickly.

Lean-Thinking is based on leadership and systems-thinking.

The following is a paraphrase of Russell Ackoff from Creating the Corporate Future: Plan or be Planned For

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Systems Thinking is a mode of thought that begins with SYNTHESIS before ANALYSIS:

1)     Identify the containing whole (system) of which the thing to be explained is part.

2)     Explain the behavior or properties of the containing whole

3)     Now, explain the behavior or properties of the thing to be explained in terms of its role(s) or function(s) within its containing whole.

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Focusing on the system people are in can also be used to affect the culture of an organization. The following is paraphrased from “Creating a Lean Culture” by David Mann.

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Culture is important, but changing it directly is not possible. Culture is no more likely a target than the air we breathe. It is not something to target for change. Culture is an idea arising from experience.

That is, our idea of culture of a place or organization is a result of what we experience there. In this way a company’s culture is a result of how people collaborate with each other. Culture is critical, and to change it, you have to change your method of collaboration.

Focus on agreements, behaviors, specific expectations, tools and routine practices.

Lean systems make this easier because they emphasize explicitly defined agreements and use tools to make the work and agreements visible.

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The role of the servant leader in Agile is to combine these two concepts of systems thinking and management working to improve the system on behalf of the people reporting to them. This takes the focus off the teams as well and puts it on the realization of value quickly while attending to the needs of the individuals.

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.



        

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