Systems Thinking in ‘ORGAN’-Izations

What is systems thinking? Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. That definition and many like it are found all around the internet, but do we know what it looks like in action? I found it confusing in many cases due to these same resources stating that a systems thinking approach is the opposite of breaking a larger system down into its parts to be analyzed and/or improved. It is my opinion that using a systems thinking approach in an organization is a balance of both.I’ve read a lot about tearing down these functional areas as if they are some kind of barrier standing in the way of a systems approach. I am going to disagree with this and state that we simply need to work with them differently. I strongly agree with the need for these teams, but the information within should be openly available to all other teams and the communication paths should be directly available.In every business we have a product, service, solution, etc… to provide to someone and in many it is important to have expertise organized into functional teams within the organization. These functional teams need to be in place for organizations to provide important pieces such as expertise, accountability and responsibility. Building a culture of relating these functional teams to systems that are part of a larger system and promoting collaboration between these systems is how I would describe getting your organization to a systems thinking approach.A systems approach provides many things from efficiencies and cost savings to feedback loops and product improvements. It can even have a positive influence over morale.After recent discussions on systems thinking I was looking for an example of an organization that utilizes a systems approach effectively. What I realized is that not only is the human body a great example of many things working together for a common goal, but that we study and teach on this subject recognizing each of these parts as systems working together.If you were to look up the Human Organism and write down the highlights, you are probably going to write something like skeletal system, muscular system, nervous system, etc… See the common factor?

Now hold that thought and let’s look at the human body as we look at our own organizations. Imagine a standard org chart with organ systems breaking down into each system (nervous, muscular, digestive, etc… ), then to the organs themselves (heart, lung, liver, etc… )From atoms to molecules to organelles that form cells which form tissue which leads to organs that make up an organ system and results in an organism.If the body worked vertically it probably wouldn’t function let alone be what it is today. The body maintains our functional groups that allows for expertise, responsibility and accountability; but still has many interworking systems.Notice that when we speak of the functional teams that make up the body, we refer to them as systems. The body has 11 major organ systems, but what you cannot display in such a standard org chart representing the body is the overlapping of these systems. Nearly all of the major organs of the major systems have other organs from other systems connected to them. Notice that I said there are 11 ‘major’ systems. Choose your belief here, but whether fantastic evolution or a genius creator, the need for interworking systems was obviously not overlooked. I listed some organs that fall under their organ system, but what happens when I ask you where the hypothalamus resides? It is a gland so let’s say its functional area is the endocrine system, but it’s function is being responsible for the activities of the autonomic nervous system. This happens to us everyday right? Your software developers are not writing software to develop software.We’ve decided that with the org chart of the human body if you will, it needs a system to link the system, hence we have what is known as the neuroendocrine system. This is found again and again throughout the human body where functional areas overlap. The muscular and skeletal systems work so closely and are dependent on each other for optimization of movement and support that we have a musculoskeletal system. Genius right?The musculoskeletal system is not a whole new functional area of the business with new management, etc… Consider instead that it is a space where representatives from both systems come to collaborate on their ideas of how to reach the common goal and then returns to their own system.Aside from not addressing dependencies from multiple functional areas to optimize the outcome, silos cause other issues in the organization. Regardless what your functional area is, it is better than the others right? If you are an installation tech, you could meet your goals if development had it together and if you are in development your product is fine if only your installation guys were smart enough to implement it.We’ve got to tear down these silos and interact. Every decision made in a functional system is going to change the overall system. If your change is not matched and/or countered by other changes the result has changed. What a standard org chart (silos) doesn’t do is help us identify where a problem is or visually instill the idea that what one does has a greater consequence to the common goal. As an example, let’s assume you have hypoglycemia.Well, hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs when your blood sugar (glucose) is too low. Now you have double vision, fast heart, nervous, shaking, sweating, etc… Each system is reacting. If you take medicine to rectify the symptoms without understanding the true cause you could damage your pancreas or cause other systems to work harder to counter the new effects while not actually curing the problem.Hypoglycemia can be caused by medications or alcohol so it could be the fault of the mouth. If not the mouth maybe the overall digestive system for not breaking down the carbohydrates or back down in that functional system to the pancreas for not producing insulin. Maybe it’s the blood stream and maybe it’s that the liver and/or muscles aren’t storing glucose properly. It very well might be a digestive system problem, but unless we understand how systems overlap you might of just replaced your director of digestion when in fact the problem could of been any one of circulatory, muscular, or endocrine systems.Similarly, defects in the muscles and bones can be the result of neurological problems, metabolic or vascular disorders, nutritional imbalances, etc… If any one of the systems that make up the human body were to over/under produce or change what it does all together, it can drastically change every other system and the overall result of what they were previously working together to do.

The body has 5 vital organs being the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and pancreas. Scroll up if you need to, but I’ll just tell you that the blocks are red and each resides inside of a functional system. What?! The brain isn’t higher than bones? All of these systems work together and due to this the information uses the nervous, muscular, circulatory, and other systems to share information where they overlap and transport it to another system it interacts with. If you were to put your hand on a hot surface the body reacts by sending signals to other parts of the body. Your muscles contract to pull away, it notifies your brain of the incident, your blood pressure increases while you breath heavier, your pupils dilate, and you start releasing hormones like adrenaline.Many systems in the body just worked together to notify, react and rectify and it did so by communicating within interworking systems rather than all information leaving the critical areas and coming back via the same point it went it out. Good thing or you might just still have your hand on a hot surface waiting for that single point of communication to be available.Any living organism is amazing, but remove any one system or even tamper with it without proper communication to the others and if you are still alive, you’ve just caused cancer.To do this an organization needs to instill a culture of collaboration and team building so that the vital organs can work together while the functional manager acts as a servant leader to keep his experts focused, trained, and with the tools they need to do what they do.With all of the communication that the body has going on, you can provide it with the right nutrients and not only is it healthy, it becomes self healing when the unknown arises. Shouldn’t your organization be self healing?

How IT Companies Can Effectively Manage Client Hardware

Despite the emergence of “The Cloud”, local hardware will always be required. Even the most basic small business client has a router, a network switch, a PC and one or more printers. Other clients may have Firewalls, Servers, Plotters, Multi-Function Units and any array of other hardware – most of it IP-enabled.Multiply that by multiple clients, and you’ve got an awful lot of hardware that becomes really easy to waste a lot of time and effort trying to manage – if you’re not organized.From Chaos to OrderThe first step in bringing order to the chaos is to buy a Label Printer. My personal favorite is the P-Touch Handheld range from Brother. Anything that you can easily carry with you, plug into the mains (battery operated is fine – but batteries run out, and you then start to forget to label things) and print labels will do the job. If you have more than one engineer, buy them all label printers and get them to label them with their own names – they’ll be more inclined to look after them.Next, organize a time for an engineer to visit client sites with his labeler at the ready – grabbing and labeling anything and everything with a power plug on the end and making a written note of each to take back to the office.(Talking of power plugs, get your engineers into the habit of labeling these too, especially servers. Clearly knowing which plug belongs to a PC and which to a monitor is a real benefit when you’re crawling under a dark desk on a dirty floor trying to work out what to unplug and what not to.)Why Labels?But why bother labeling things?

Firstly, you’re acknowledging the existence of a device. If it’s labeled, you know about it and can document it for future reference.Secondly, when new hardware “mysteriously” appears at a client site and a client calls you for support on it (probably outside your support contract) you can save yourself a heap of time trying to work out why Windows 7 Home Edition is installed on it rather than a Business O/S.Thirdly, labeling hardware speeds up the support process. If a user telephones the Helpdesk to say they can’t print to “That printer in the corner of the office”, then you can ask them to read the label and quickly identify which printer it is that they’re trying to print to.What to label?What the label says depends on the hardware, but the label should help you easily identify the hardware in question. Some examples:-PCs – Workstation name, Fixed IP address (if applicable)
Servers – Server name, Fixed IP address, Domain name
Routers/Firewalls – External IP address, Internal IP address
Network Switches – Internal IP address, Management IP address
Local Printers – Locally attached Workstation name
Network Printers – Fixed IP address, Queue Name (//Server/Queue)We’re not going to worry about Workstation and Server naming schemes, IP address ranges or any other standards just yet. Right now we’re focusing on documenting what’s already out there.In some cases the engineer won’t be able to identify network equipment. Rather than ignore the hardware, they should label it as “unidentified” and raise a support ticket or make a written note to investigate how to identify it later.This takes some time, especially if you have a lot of clients – but it’s time well spent. You should make this type of ‘discovery work’ a part of the on-boarding process of every new client, as the time spent discovering hardware now will pay dividends when you’re supporting that same hardware later – perhaps in a time-sensitive situation.Document your findingsGoing forwards, make it a policy that from now on, every piece of hardware you deploy to a client site should have a label on it.Document your findings. If you have an RMM tool such as GFI Max, then you’ll already be able to scan networks for devices. Supplement this automated information with your own findings.Pretty soon you’ll have a good overview of the hardware at all your client sites. It’ll make supporting the client, both remotely and on-site, a *lot* easier.The use of the labeler as a force of good doesn’t stop there.Hardware in the WorkshopWhenever an engineer brings a piece of hardware back to the Workshop for troubleshooting, it needs to be labeled. You might label it with the client’s name, a brief overview of the issue, and if you’re using a ticket system, the ticket number.This might sound obvious, but how many times do engineers walk back into the office, drop off some faulty hardware and then get distracted by something else? In this scenario, a colleague may be left scratching his head over who the hardware belongs to and why it’s here, or worse, think the hardware is “spare” and go and re-use it for another job they are working on…

Talking of spare hardware – it’s worth creating a process to deal with this too. I like to create an area of the workshop that is specifically for Hardware under Repair, Hardware under testing, and Hardware for disposal. Then, as hardware comes in…If it’s hardware that is to be sent back to a manufacturer under RMA, it’s labeled as such and placed in the “Under Repair” area of the workshop.If it’s hardware that may be faulty and required testing, a ticket is raised for this and it’s labeled as “For Testing” and labeled with the appropriate ticket number. The hardware is then placed in the “For Testing” area, and you can confidently give your newly employed Junior Technician something productive to do on his first day in the office.If it’s hardware for disposal, it’s labeled with the fault and marked as “For Disposal”. It’s placed in the “For Disposal” area of the workshop and once every few weeks you arrange for a specialist IT disposal company to collect the pile and dispose of it in an ethical and environmentally-friendly fashion.Save Time With LabelsThe amount of time IT companies can waste trying to re-use faulty hardware that has simply been left lying around, or re-testing known faulty equipment is mind-blowing.A simple system of labeling such hardware saves hours of wasted time.I hope this article has helped to describe how armed with a label printer you can build the basis of a series of systems that lay out how your business deals with client hardware.