Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How to Apply System Thinking to Shape Right Questions or frame Right Problems

The main emphasis of ST is in doing "better pre-work" -defining the situation and the "success criteria," enabling a consideration of the range of options for problem solving.

Today’s digital business and society are hyper-connected and interdependent, systems thinking is a type of thinking, not only see different pieces of components separately but also think how they are connected to the whole. You can apply systems thinking when solving problems. However, does systems thinking change the way you define problems, why does it matter, and how to apply System Thinking (ST) to shape the right questions?

You might use ST for problem definition with problem boundaries smaller or larger (single or multiple goals); depending on what you consider relevant and endogenous as your hypothesis regarding why are those things have evolved in a certain way. In System Thinking, a problem, the result of a possible 'mess' of other problems can be defined as the difference between a system's current and ideal level of effectiveness in its role, or roles within a larger system. Integrating ST into a permanent change in the way of being, to naturally "see" systems, or at worst to develop internal prompts to know when/what situations call us to put on a set of ST glasses,  how quickly do we independently recognize "messes" or "wicked" problems?

ST provides for better and more accurate understanding of the overall situation and problems and hence better defining the problems: And subsequently how you should go about solving them and in what sequence! And yes for a non-ST people it means a change in the way they had viewed the problems! One's system thinking defines how one sees "problems." More often, As people’s skills evolve, they stop defining problems. That reductionist practice is replaced by various ways of mapping "Messes." A mess being an interdependent system of problems. From there it is no longer possible to think in terms of "solving" since you see that it is no longer possible to apply Newtonian style cause and effect. That is to say, you have insight the fixes will fail. So you journey further to mess management and system re-design. Now the fun (and learning) begins. To design, you need to understand the system purpose which requires an understanding of the role the system in question plays in the larger system that contains it.

Leveraging ST for problem framing helps see a larger system with interactive pieces and “conflict” goals. Rather than considering a single goal, you need to consider a larger system with multiple and conflicting goals."Give the customer what they want." This is the approach the majority of businesses have now. The problem is the customer mostly doesn't know what they want or need in any detail. Instead of helping the customer to better define the problems they're trying to solve by analyzing the system it's meant to operate in, they start on development in a piece wise fashion. They'll build out "subsystems" and work out the interactions at a later time. However, without leveraging systems thinking, the approach leads to terrible interfacing because it doesn't take into account the larger system processes / workflows and how they interact. It can also lead to waste of time and money if they overdevelop beyond what's needed for any particular subsystem. You want the software to map to the business, not the force the business to adapt to the software. Ideally, you would model and map the process / workflow / system at the big picture level before doing any development. You can simulate the processes and identify the constraints, robustness, modularity, scalability, costs, requirements, stability, and everything else you would need for optimization. Knowing these before development will drastically increase the probability of success with an optimized solution (as close as possible).

Applying a "systems approach" to frame questions provides insight into the emergent properties: It applies systems thinking to understand the current situation, and then, if an intervention is needed, to guide the resolution / improvement of the situation. Systems Thinking provides much more than the "scope" of the problem, although that is a large part of it. It provides an insight into the emergent properties inherent - both the positive emergent issues required and the negative emergent issues (both known and previously unrecognized) that come about, particularly due to the combination of parts and the interactions within the system and between the system and its environment. The application of systematic methods applied in a structured, systematic process allows a more complete and holistic approach to be taken. The main emphasis is in doing "better pre-work" -defining the situation and the "success criteria," enabling a consideration of the range of options - rather than the more traditional "jump to solution" problem-solving method.

Systems thinking itself is the combination of different thinking patterns such as analytics, synthesis, critical thinking, holistic thinking, etc. Determining the right question is the thinking logic behind the scene, applying ST to frame the open, thought-provoking question with emphasis on doing-pre-work, in order to attract multi-dimensional viewpoint and systematic solutions.


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