Systems thinking and problem solving

Watched System based improvement videos of Russell Ackoff and followed up with his book The Art of Problem Solving in the library as his work seems so similar to that of Deming and others. This slim little book (library had original 1978 edition) is very useful read to understand more about solving problems and fits in with another plan for an MSc program I have in mind.

The beauty of this book, and why it works so well with Deming’s ideas, is that it analyses problem scientifically and looks for measurable solutions. Problems are treated by ways to resolve them through:

  1. creativity and constraints – look at assumed constraints and check whether they are only perceived or real, tehy might not be
  2. objectives – look for idealized design of a solution and resolving one problem may lead to another without taking into account the objectives of other stakeholders in the problem
  3. controllable variables – look at all variables that you can control, not just the obvious ones connected to a problem as sometimes expanding the search area might help find a variable that does have better purchase on a problem than would be assumed to be the case
  4. uncontrollable variables – look at the assumptions about ‘obvious’ facts to see whether they are true, or only misconceptions, or aspects that were formerly true, but no longer hold true, and look to where the problem system can be enlarged to make the uncontrollable variable a controllable one in a larger system
  5. relations – look at the relationships between variable to ensure that associations between them are not mistakenly taken as causation, but are held in the correct interpretation

The best quote is this from page 53:

We usually try to reduce complex situations to what appear to be one or more simple solvable problems. This is sometimes referred to¬† as ‘cutting the problem down to size.’ In so doing we often reduce our chances fo finding a creative solution to the original problem.

…the greater the variety of backgrounds fo the people who examine a problematic situation, the greater the variety of variables that will be considered as susceptible to control. From this derives the widely observed problem-solving power of interdisciplinary teams.

The distinction between inter- and multidisciplinary teams is important. When a complex problem is divided into parts each of which is assigned a different discipline for solution, the result is multi- no and interdisciplanary effort. In an interdisciplanary effort representatives of different disciplines work together in tackling the undivided problem however complex it is.

That sums up the approach: don’t constrain your solutions by boxing up who can, or can’t look at it. It also points to why agile teams should be cross disciplinary in order to work.

Must find some more Ackoff to read.

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