Sunday, March 01, 2020

Newsletter #44: Lean, Systems Thinking and Other articles

Interesting Articles

Push or Pull: Origins and further details

If you have heard about Lean, you would have heard about the Pull system. Taiichi Ohno is considered as the father of the "Pull" system. The story goes, Ohno got influenced with the American Supermarkets, where the customer pulls the needs and in-turn signalling the order creation.

Since the kanban system was also originated at Toyota, and so, it became a synonym for the pull system. However, the concept of Pull system itself is much broader than kanban. Kanban system has it's own limitations.

The Pull system needs to be studied in a broader perspective.

Taking the original idea of a superstore, customers pulling the items from the aisles signals the procurement. This in-turn signals the production of the new items.  This signalling (kanban) mechanism, controls how many items need to be to released in the next batch. This control of production is nothing but the WIP limit.  WIP plays a crucial role in controlling the variability, thus increasing the predictability.

However, in the Push system, the products are manufactured out depending on the demands seen in the past. Accuracy of the prediction controls the manfucaturing.  Push system cannot handle the variability well unless a large buffer is kept aside or a system to improve the accuracy of predictability is created, which is challenging in a complex system.

Further reading:

T-shaped skills and one-piece flow

One-piece flow goal is achieved when the work flows like water from one end of the system until it's delivered.  In large organisations, one-piece flow is difficult but not impossible.  The major challenge in creating the flow is variability.  There are many reasons for variabilities, and one important reason is the individual capacity.

One of the ways, Toyota tackled this challenge the flow issue is by creating generalised specialists. If someone has obstacles, the others in the queue can step-in and help to remove the roadblock.  However, when this idea was introduced at Toyota, there was a d

At Toyota, when a new idea hits a roadblock, it is the leaders and managers, who will lead by example by joining the team. 

In most organisations, the lean initiatives fail as they copy only the tactical practices rather than the cultural aspects like leaders as teachers.

Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking and its uses

It is essential to understand the distinction between System and Systems Thinking. As per Meadows  A system* is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something. If you look at that definition closely for a minute, you can see that a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose.

Based on the above definition, Systems Thinking is about understanding the elements, interconnectedness to achieve the purpose. If you want to call yourself as a Systems Thinker, probably this is the best place to start to focus while understanding the system.

In a complex system, it isn't straightforward to understand the elements and relatedness without being part of the system. This is one of the reasons that, a real systems thinker, is one who knows how to get the elements involved in deciphering the system (assuming we are dealing with socio-technical or social systems like organisations, societies, etc.) while solving the problems. 

How can Systems thinking help organisations:

1. It enables the people to focus on the interconnectedness and itself impact on the emergent behaviour
2. Any recurring problem is a symptom of a systemic problem that is hidden beneath the surface
3. Looking at long term cause-effect analysis and strategies 
4. Improving Collaboration increased shared language
5. Continuous improvement, respect for each other and being humble as there are no experts on a system
6. Avoid jumping into conclusions and getter deeper understanding of the unintended consequences 

When elements are not understood or identified, any improvement leads to local optimisation or unintended consequences. From the practical application point of view, when you are trying to solve a specific issue at work, one needs to consciously include the people who like the idea and who have differing opinions as well. 
Will try to write more and practical applications of Systems Thinking (ST) in the future newsletters...

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