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Idealised design for changing socio-technical systems

We have traditionally treated organisations as complex machines. Theories and approaches employed for changing organisations were concerned with mechanical or technical solutions. Examples of classical change solutions include improving performance by changing technology used, training people, etc…

The fundamental tools for change in most organisations are “training” and “projects”. In the article below I want to explore change in organisations from a systems thinking point of view and also link it to some traditional practices (enterprise architecture and change management).

This is a design I use to visualise how to change organisations in general.

The image below shows a model for changing organisations, it is what I currently consider my ideal design for changing socio-technical systems. It is primarily based on work done at MIT by both System Design and Management Group and MIT Sloan School of Management. The big influence on my point of view are Peter Senge (named strategist of the century for his work on learning organisations at MIT) and Russell L. Ackoff professor at Wharton School (one of the pioneers in operations research and management science, idealised design and interactive planning pioneer).

Idealised Design - Changing Socio Technical Systems

Events

Events are seen parts of the socio-technical system under study. Changes done at Events level are reactive and are short lasting. There is no optimisation, at this level, only day by day reactions to the events generated by the socio-technical systems. Many complex organisations have departments that operate by responding to events, since they are in many cases devoid from understanding of the organisational strategy.

Patterns

At some point the management of an organisation realises that there are certain patterns that explain the events over time. This is the beginning of an analytical view of an organisation. By understanding patterns management can perform predictive changes but lack the overall system view and can therefore sub-optimise parts of the organisation by simply managing patterns of events over time. This is better then fully reactive management but falls short in understanding the full socio-technical system being managed.

Structures

The event patterns are driven fundamentally by structures that make up the enterprise. Structures like business processes, organisation structure, information systems, etc. This is where Enterprise Architecture as a discipline ends. From events through patterns and structures, enterprise architecture is well equipped to deal with changes in these realms. However, enterprise is a socio-technical system, most of the leverage for change so far is technical, but enterprises are more social then technical, therefore for true transformation, classical or best practice enterprise architecture is anti-systemic.

Mind Models

Mind models describe what and how thinking allows the structures to persist. If a change initiative changes the fundamental structure of a business process, of organisation itself or introduces a new set of information systems without addressing the thinking behind the previous architecture, the change effort will generally fail. By changing the thinking of people participating in the socio-technical system, a large leverage can be achieved to perform long lasting changes. Mind models are the core of social systems, mind models are the fundamental building blocks of enterprise architecture not processes or information systems.

Vision

Changing vision is the deepest and highest leverage that can be applied in order to change an organisation. Entire enterprises can be re-built by changing the vision and following through the stack up to the events. Vision is what shapes the mind models of people working with an enterprise. It is also the hardest part of the enterprise to change and requires much more work and dedication then changing other aspects.

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