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Introduction to Systems Thinking:

System Structures and Behaviour


Sydney Limited WIP Society
Jason Yip
j.c.yip@computer.org
http://jchyip.blogspot.com
@jchyip

Select a problem as a working


example. It should be somewhat
complicated, and not too simple.

What is a system?

A system is a set of things


interconnected in such a way that
they produce their own pattern of
behaviour over time

A system is more than the sum of its


parts

http://mennodiscuss.com/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=16392#p456262

Systems consists of three things


1. Elements
2. Interconnections
3. Function (non-human system) or Purpose
(human system)

Examples of systems

Digestive system
Sports team
School
City
Factory
Corporation
National Economy

Animal
Tree
Forest
Earth
Solar system
Galaxy
IT system

Bicycle system

https://flic.kr/p/97JeYs

Frog system

https://flic.kr/p/mKKug

Systems mostly cause their own


behaviour; outside events unleash
that behaviour

Do politicians cause recessions and


booms? Or is it inherent to market
economies?

Do competitors cause companies to


lose market share? Or do their own
policies create losses that
competitors exploit?

Every system is perfectly designed


to achieve the results it gets.
Dr. Don Berwick

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?

Stocks and Flows

Stocks are the elements you can see,


feel, count, or measure at any given
time

Examples of Stocks

Water in a bathtub
A population
Books in a book store
Wood in a tree
Money in a bank

Stocks change over time via Flows


Work flow
Information flow
Both inflow and outflow

Stocks

Information Flow

Work Flow

http://lssacademy.com/2008/02/24/lets-create-a-current-state-value-stream-map/

Inflow

Stock

Outflow
https://flic.kr/p/9az8q1

Information flow

Stocks provide a memory of flows

Stocks act as shock absorbers

Stocks introduce delay.


It takes time for flows to affect
stocks.

Delays decouple inflow and outflow

Examples of stocks decoupling flows


Gasoline storage tanks
Wood in a forest
Water reservoir

Stocks are pretty much queues


Me

Lets try describing a typical Agile


team using stocks and flows

How might stocks and flows change


how you describe your situation?

Feedback loops

Systems run themselves via


feedback loops

Balancing feedback loops


Thermostat
Guided missile
Iterative, incremental software development

A stock with two competing


balancing loops

How feedback fails


Late, lost, unclear, incomplete, hard to
interpret information
Weak, delayed, resource-constrained,
ineffective response

Two competing balancing loops with


delays

The problem with forecast-driven


supply chains

A delay in a balancing feedback loop


makes a system likely to oscillate

Aside: This is generally solved by


using kanban

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

A stock with one reinforcing loop


and one balancing loop

If A causes B, is it possible that B


also causes A?

How might feedback loops change


how you describe your situation?

Dealing with systems

Systems consists of three things


1. Elements
2. Interconnections
3. Function (non-human system) or Purpose
(human system)

Changing elements usually has the


least effect; changing
interconnections or purpose is
usually more dramatic

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

Focus more on interconnections and


interactions than elements
Interaction flow / sequence over class
structure
Work flow / value stream over org structure

System interactions operate through


information flow

Address incongruent purposes


System purposes do not necessarily match the
intention of the designers or actors within it

How might you intervene in your


situation to improve the system?