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Introduction to Systems Thinking: System Structures and Behaviour
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Introduction to Systems Thinking: System Structures and Behaviour


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Presentation for the Sydney Limited WIP Society …

Presentation for the Sydney Limited WIP Society

An introduction to Systems Thinking for people who I assume are familiar with designing, building IT systems and/or the mess of large organisations

Targeting beginners OR a review of fundamentals for non-beginners

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  • 1. Introduction to Systems Thinking: System Structures and Behaviour Sydney Limited WIP Society Jason Yip @jchyip
  • 2. Select a problem as a working example. It should be somewhat complicated, and not too simple.
  • 3. What is a system?
  • 4. A system is a set of things interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behaviour over time
  • 5. A system is more than the sum of its parts
  • 6.
  • 7. Systems consists of three things 1. Elements 2. Interconnections 3. Function (non-human system) or Purpose (human system)
  • 8. Examples of systems ● Digestive system ● Sports team ● School ● City ● Factory ● Corporation ● National Economy ● Animal ● Tree ● Forest ● Earth ● Solar system ● Galaxy ● IT system
  • 9. “Bicycle system”
  • 10. “Frog system”
  • 11. Systems mostly cause their own behaviour; outside events unleash that behaviour
  • 12. Do politicians cause recessions and booms? Or is it inherent to market economies?
  • 13. Do competitors cause companies to lose market share? Or do their own policies create losses that competitors exploit?
  • 14. “Every system is perfectly designed to achieve the results it gets.” Dr. Don Berwick
  • 15. Describe your situation as a system ● What are the elements? ● What are the interconnections between the elements? ● What is the purpose of the system? Intended vs actual based on behaviour?
  • 16. Stocks and Flows
  • 17. Stocks are the elements you can see, feel, count, or measure at any given time
  • 18. Examples of Stocks ● Water in a bathtub ● A population ● Books in a book store ● Wood in a tree ● Money in a bank
  • 19. Stocks change over time via Flows ● Work flow ● Information flow ● Both inflow and outflow
  • 20. Information Flow Work Flow Stocks
  • 21. Inflow Outflow Information flow Stock
  • 22. Stocks provide a memory of flows
  • 23. Stocks act as “shock absorbers”
  • 24. Stocks introduce delay. It takes time for flows to affect stocks.
  • 25. Delays decouple inflow and outflow
  • 26. Examples of stocks decoupling flows ● Gasoline storage tanks ● Wood in a forest ● Water reservoir
  • 27. “Stocks are pretty much queues” Me
  • 28. Let’s try describing a typical Agile team using stocks and flows
  • 29. How might stocks and flows change how you describe your situation?
  • 30. Feedback loops
  • 31. Systems run themselves via feedback loops
  • 32. Balancing feedback loops ● Thermostat ● Guided missile ● Iterative, incremental software development
  • 33. A stock with two competing balancing loops
  • 34. How feedback fails ● Late, lost, unclear, incomplete, hard to interpret information ● Weak, delayed, resource-constrained, ineffective response
  • 35. Two competing balancing loops with delays
  • 36. The problem with forecast-driven supply chains
  • 37. A delay in a balancing feedback loop makes a system likely to oscillate
  • 38. Aside: This is generally solved by using kanban
  • 39. Reinforcing feedback loops ● Market collapse: uncertainty -> remove money -> more uncertainty ● Compound interest ● Death march: Too much to do -> work harder -> more bugs -> work even harder
  • 40. A stock with one reinforcing loop and one balancing loop
  • 41. If A causes B, is it possible that B also causes A?
  • 42. How might feedback loops change how you describe your situation?
  • 43. Dealing with systems
  • 44. Systems consists of three things 1. Elements 2. Interconnections 3. Function (non-human system) or Purpose (human system)
  • 45. Changing elements usually has the least effect; changing interconnections or purpose is usually more dramatic
  • 46. Examples ● Change all members of a sports team vs change rules of the game or the definition of winning ● Change people in the organisation vs change the way of working or the definition of organisational success
  • 47. Focus more on interconnections and interactions than elements ● Interaction flow / sequence over class structure ● Work flow / value stream over org structure
  • 48. System interactions operate through information flow
  • 49. Address incongruent purposes System purposes do not necessarily match the intention of the designers or actors within it
  • 50. How might you intervene in your situation to improve the system?