We are strong believers in Systems Thinking because it provides the basis for a structured and consistent way of thinking and managing, and yet, allows for creativity. Creativity must always be built into the system and ad-hoc decisions can be taken when the need arises.
Systems thinking should happen at all levels of the organization: at the strategic and operational level as well as the interaction between them. The Deming circle (Walton, 1986) of Plan – Do – Check – Act, is an example of this. When you take into account the fact that some business process management can take days, weeks or months to complete, it is important to proactively monitor progress, so we have added a Monitor step. Refer to Figure 1
Systems thinking would suggest that Management creates a Plan of what they would like to Do. This goes into the Execution mode that may either resemble a process, a project or smaller set of activities. The outcome of the Do step needs to be Checked and/or Monitored over time and at the completion of the activity. As a result of the outcomes, there will be triggered a need to take action (Act). This action will either resemble Business Process Management Improvement (if the action requires a change to the process, a Business process management improvement project) or go back to the Plan step if no changes to the process are required (for example if more effort is required because of higher demand).
We will now describe four situations that make the achievement of systems thinking and acting difficult or impossible to achieve.
1. You cannot achieve your target unless you manage it
Targets and goals are rarely met without the involvement of “management” and management action. If the targets are met without management involvement, then they simply were not ambitious enough. Management provides guidance and ensures that the various pieces of the puzzle fit together ( Figure 2 ). Management requires clear definitions of roles and responsibilities, including ownership.
2. You cannot manage what you do not measure
Management requires measurement. While the popular “management by walking around ” is an important tool to gain a sense of what is happening “on the workshop floor”, it can never be the only tool, nor replace true measurement of process and people performance. Refer the Figure 3 which shows a disconnect between the Do and Act steps.
3. You cannot improve without Management
There are still many organizations that have a low level of business process management maturity and yet still attempt to start business process improvement activities without first establishing the management required for these processes. Even if the organization does achieve some process improvement, the gains will rapidly disappear unless the business processes are managed for sustainability.
In our Experience, many Six Sigma projects fall into this category. Figure 4 shows that unless the divide between the Do and Improvement steps is filled with the Business process management of the activities to achieve the Targets, then the benefits associated with the improvements will simply diminish over time.
4.No alignment without governance
Process governance, in our opinion, is the foundation of the systems thinking figure.Process governance must ensure that the target, execution, Management, and improvement activities are aligned. This is crucial as the various roles for these aspects are distributed among different people within the organization. A pragmatic approach to process governance within an organization will increase the commitment and adherence of all concerned. Refer to Figure 5.
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