People + Process = Performance

Lean, Ergonomics, Six Sigma and Systems Thinking (L.E.S.S.™): Part 5: Brief Overview of Systems Thinking


The fourth and final component of L.E.S.S. is systems thinking.  Systems thinking and using a systems approach simply means to look at and consider how all departments, personnel and policies interact with each other within an organization.  Decisions made in one department often impact other departments and operations of an organization.  A good analogy would be to think of being in an 18’ fishing boat with a few of your closest friends.  You are at one end of the boat while the others are at the other end where the boat sprung a leak. They are frantically bailing out water while you say to yourself “I’m sure glad I’m not in that end of the boat”.  Obviously that line of thinking is flawed as all of you are in the same boat and will experience the consequences, but perhaps in a slightly different or delayed manner.  Now apply this to your organization.  Think about how decisions and work procedures done in one department affect others, i.e. HR policies on Operations, Purchasing decisions on Operations, Operations on Safety, etc.  Everything is interrelated and intertwined much more than we like to admit.  The point is to remove silo (vertical) thinking and establish (horizontal) cross functional systems thinking.
The inclusion of systems thinking into L.E.S.S. is invaluable as it allows us to never ignore or neglect the effect of change in one area on other areas.  All too often the “fix” works great for the problem but it unfortunately created two or more problems that we “unseen”.  In essence, it allows us to see the impacts and potential impacts of the change to come.