Understanding state of health of a system

November 8, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Out of my mind, Systems Health, Systems Thinking | 1 Comment

Each of us is a system, we participate in other systems and we interact with yet other systems. For example as an employee in a software company, each individual is a system by himself. He participates in the activities of his organization with visibility into the internal working and also interacts with client organizations but only through the interface exposed by the client. We can have many more such examples in terms of the family, society and even nations but the basics from systems perspective are same.

When as a system we deal with other systems, either from inside or outside, it is in our interest to be aware of the workings of that system, as dispassionately and objectively as possible. Such an understanding would help us to plan and effectively execute both our proactive actions as well as reactive responses.

I find it useful to understand a system in terms of factors which have a strong influence on the system health. In my opinion these factors are diversity, co-existence, openness, agility and balance. Diversity helps the system to respond to different challenges known & unknown. Co-existence involves both competition & cooperation. Unless the diverse elements making up a system can co-exist, there are unnecessary tensions and conflicts. Co-existence gives it the required momentum. A system needs to be open to the dynamic reality. Otherwise the momentum soon turns into inertia. It is not enough for a system to be aware of the reality of its environment but it must also be able to respond quickly and appropriately. This is agility. Last but not the least, the system needs the fine balance between opposing forces to remain healthy. Too much tilt in either direction can put the system health at risk. Such a balance is required between the diverse elements, between competition & cooperation, between preservation & openness, between momentum & inertia and between agility & stability.

The next step is to find ways to understand these factors both being inside the system as well as from outside. I will try to find out what others have said on these aspects from literature. If you are aware of any good references, please share them with me.


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  1. Karve,

    To me a big change in health would be the change from a top down management style (not necessarily a dictatorship, just that everyone assumes that managers tell people what to do) to an enabling style (what do you need to get the work done? what is stopping you?).

    I have read some detailed ideas and descriptions about state, and about factors that influence a team. I like yours very much. And it is general, so we can apply it to software engineering as well.

    For software engineering I would go FIRST for the *simplest* general advice – I suggest:
    * look at the context of the way you work (perhaps calling it “management style”, perhaps not) and how it is for the team

    THEN give detailed advice that is more specific to software engineering:
    * work to develop a shared understanding
    * co-ordinate expertise (in the subject matter, the tools, the architecture, testing, usability)
    * deliver and gather feedback repeatedly
    * more?

    Regards, Bob

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