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Steven Spear

Steve Spear: The objective function in managing any system must be solving problems and learning

By Steven Spear, - Last updated: Friday, March 12, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

The objective function in managing any system must be solving
problems and learning.  There are four principles of a ‘basic
science’ of system design, operation, and management, which if
followed, generate, sustain, and accelerate high velocity learning,
improvement, and innovation. If they are not followed, learning,
improvement, and innovation are compromised.

(This basic science has a sound theoretical underpinning as it is
rooted in the science of closed loop control and experiential and
experimental learning.)

Learning, improvement, and innovation are core objective functions
because the complexity of the ‘socio-technical’ systems (e.g., groups
of people, doing interdependent work, to create value for others)
upon which we depend for delivering value to customers.

The complexity resides in the product itself (e.g., cars with
multiple materials depending on well integrated mechanics and
electronics), in the service (e.g., cancer treatment requiring the
customization and integration of multiple diagnostics, pharmacology,
oncology radiation, and surgery), or in the production methods.

The problem with complex systems, those with many parts connected and
interacting in non linear ways, is that their structure and dynamics
are difficult/impossible to model and predict accurately. Therefore,
no few people can design them perfectly in isolation.  Large numbers
of people must pursue perfection by iterative discovery.

There are four basic principles for achieving high speed iteration,
in tightly compressed cycles.

1: Seeing problems: Systems must be designed:
— with a high degree of specificity in terms of output, pathway
(e.g., flow, architecture), connections (e.g., interfaces), and
methods to capture best known approaches and
— with tests built in to show problems (e.g., that the best known
approach has failed).

2: Solving problems: When problems are seen, they must be:
— contained to prevent their spread
— investigated and solved quickly and rigorously (e.g., scientific
method) to convert
the ignorance that was the core source of their occurrence into
useful knowledge.

3: Sharing learnings: When problems are solved, new knowledge must be:
— incorporated into new approaches for doing work and
— applied systemically so the impact of the new knowledge is

4: Leadership:  For learning, improvement, and innovation to occur
relentlessly, leaders must:
— actively see, solve, and share for system problems
for which they alone have span of perspective, and
— relentlessly cultivate skills 1 – 3 in those whom they support.

Teach, learn, practice, and apply these four and high performance can
be achieved.  Don’t and it won’t.

Steve Spear

BTalk BNET Australia

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