When an organization decides to improve or transform to a new way of working, it always seems to be the symptoms that the organization is heading for to improve, instead for the real root causes to their problems.
The fact is that, as long as we are not finding the root causes to our problems, the solution will always lead to sub-optimization. We are not helped by saying that we are changing to a new modern way of working, agile for example, instead of our old-fashioned one. Because, if we cannot prove that the new way of working, method or framework, is solving the root causes to our problem that we experienced with our old way of working, we can count on that the transformation will, not just be troublesome, it will very tiresome, with no end. In worst case the new way of working is so bad, that it adds on more root causes than we had before we started our transformation journey.
Some years ago, I become interested in to deeply understand why it looks like it does with all the different available methods and frameworks. My starting-point was in Lean product development, that as time went, led me trying to generally understand methods and frameworks. Why they sometimes work, but not always? This led to putting a considerable number of hours on analysing many hundreds of Dave Snowden's (father of Cynefin™ Framework) blog posts about complexity.
Dissolve a problem
Also Dr. Russell Ackoff's concept "Dissolve a problem" that he coined already 1995, become very logical in my deep-dive. The concept means: to get rid of a problem from a system, for example an organization and its way of working (system), we need to re-design the system and in that way eliminate (dissolve) the problem. Ackoff named methods as anti-systemic, when they generated many problems. He pointed at a very big American investigation based on failed transformations to new methods in the USA in the 1970-80s.
When starting to look generally, I had the favour to do a root cause analysis for a big, Swedish bank, when I realized that the root causes, we got, was the same ones as was found in another analysis for another big company, but in a totally different domain, almost a decade earlier. Was this really only a coincidence?
By closely checking this in detail, the discovery was that, no matter context, there is always a network of connected symptoms and root causes. And that the root causes to this network of problems, are nothing else than non-fulfilled science about humans and the activities they try to solve, science that is already available since decades at least. I have chosen to call the science about humans and activities for Organizational Principles. For us humans it is about capacity limitations for our intellectual functions and skills, and for activities it is about logic and complexity level.
The more complex context we have, the more organizational principles are "activated" (the ones we need to fulfil in the context), which implies that the understanding of the context is absolutely necessary when transforming to a new way of working. To not fulfil the organizational principles, is affecting the human ability to collaborate and the possibility to solve the activities in the organization, strongly negative. Altogether this is also the reason why we shall never transfer a method from a clear context like production, to a complex context like product development. The reason is due to the fact that more principles are "activated" in the complex context, which never need to be fulfilled for a method in a clear context.
The whole organization need to be involved
By not fulfilling the organizational principles, we are creating methods with built-in root cases, which in turn creates a tremendous number of problems for our people. These built-in problems can only be eliminated by re-designing the method. We need to create another way of working where the root causes to the problems are not there anymore. But still we always seem to come into symptom solving instead, which is not strange. Because, when did we lately here about someone that solved a problem, or made a transformation, talking about that the root causes in the old method were found and solved? Einstein's quote; ”Without changing our pattern of thought, we will not be able to solve the problems we created with our current patterns of thought”, springs to mind.
All the problems within an organization are therefore connected in one big network, which Ackoff referred to as "a mess - a system of problems", all the way down to the root causes, from which many conclusions can be made. For example; that all the problems the top management sees, are connected to the problems that the organization sees, and that all of them originate from the same root causes. This means that the whole organization need to be involved, both regarding to find the real root causes, and to be able to understand the needed solution, and how that will impact on the people in the organization. Briefly this means that it is a very bad idea if the top management themselves decides a new strategy, leading to organizational changes or a new method that the organization shall transform to. This therefore implies that we need to twist a great deal on the methods for change management that we use today, since they are agnostic to what we are transforming to. Instead, they need to be integrated in the problem-solving work; to look for the problems and finding their root causes, and the solution of the root causes, even if of course the change management competence itself of course still is needed.
This is only a selection of conclusions that can be drawn from the science that we already know, but not fully use, when we are making our methods and frameworks. It means that we in depth can understand why a method works or not, or why it sometimes works, but not always, which is the reason why it is always important to understand the root causes also at the many scaled agile transformations that are on-going today. We can easily find the root causes in today's methods and frameworks, or in a way of working in an organization, and by that eliminate our organizational problems. Thereby we can always design a way of working that already from start fulfils the organizational principles. This in turn means that we finally can counteract anti-systemic methods, that Ackoff brought up, for almost three decades ago.