This talk discusses the relationship between Lean Leadership and Systems thinking.

In Agile, the focus on self-organization, servant leadership, and self-motivation seems to make management unnecessary. The focus is on trust and respect.

Lean-thinking is based on leadership, systems-thinking, attending to time, a focus on quality and continuous improvement. Edwards Deming postulated that the system that people are in is responsible for 95%+ of the errors that occur. Although people are important, it is exactly because you can trust them and that they are self-motivated that the focus should be on creating a great environment in which they can thrive.

Creating such an environment requires management and a systems-thinking point of view. Russell Ackoff tells us that:
Systems Thinking is a mode of thought that begins with SYNTHESIS before ANALYSIS:
1) Identify the containing whole (system) of which the thing to be explained is part.
2) Explain the behavior or properties of the containing whole
3) Now, explain the behavior or properties of the thing to be explained in terms of its role(s) or function(s) within its containing whole.

Lean provides an holistic view for the work done in an organization. However, Agile is as much about culture as it is about process, perhaps more so. What if you don’t have an Agile ‘culture’? Is there anything that we can do about it? David Mann, in a paraphrase from “Creating a Lean Culture”, tells us:

Culture is important, but changing it directly is not possible. Culture is no more likely a target than the air we breathe. It is not something to target for change. Culture is an idea arising from experience.

That is, our idea of culture of a place or organization is a result of what we experience there. In this way a company’s culture is a result of how people collaborate with each other. Culture is critical, and to change it, you have to change your method of collaboration.

Focus on agreements, behaviors, specific expectations, tools and routine practices.

Lean systems make this easier because they emphasize explicitly defined agreements and use tools to make the work and agreements visible.

The role of the servant leader in Agile is to combine these two concepts of systems thinking and lean-management to improve the system on behalf of the people reporting to them. Our focus should be on creating great systems for self-motivated, trustworthy people.

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