People in Your Process Is Not a Bug, it’s a Feature: Applying Systems Thinking to Lead People to Accidental Success

20 / 09 / 2023

Read Time 5 minutes

In the fast-paced business world, the race to build features at lightning speed may seem impressive, but building many wrong features will fail to add value. 

Systems thinking is an analytical approach that examines extensive system interrelationships, feedback loops, and complexities. When applied to business processes, it involves understanding how various elements, departments, and decisions influence one another, affecting overall profitability. In this context, customers and stakeholders are not just a “bug” but a valuable feature shaping the business’s dynamics and success. 

The Power of Wrong Decisions 

A critical aspect of systems thinking is recognising that when a person makes the wrong decision within a business process, it reflects an issue with the system. The wrong decision is a human error and a valuable clue indicating that the system might not provide the right inputs, information, or incentives to make better choices. Instead of blaming individuals for mistakes, a systems thinker views them as an opportunity to identify weaknesses in the overall process. 

Five Ways to Improve Systems Thinking Skills for Profitability 

By understanding the interconnectedness of your operations, questioning assumptions, and embracing a customer-centric mindset, you can uncover innovative opportunities to enhance efficiency and drive profitability. 

1. Process Mapping: Begin by mapping out your business processes in detail, from end to end. Utilise tools like flowcharts or causal loop diagrams to visualise the connections and dependencies between different steps. This will help identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and potential areas for improvement. 

2. Challenge Assumptions: Encourage your team to question assumptions about your processes. Uncover any biases or “we’ve always done it this way” mentalities that might hinder your progress. Challenging these assumptions opens the door to innovative solutions and more efficient processes. 

3. Consider Long-term Impacts: Systems thinking necessitates considering the long-term consequences of process changes. Instead of focusing solely on immediate gains, analyse how alterations to one aspect of the process may impact other parts of the system. This can prevent unintended consequences and foster sustainable profitability. 

4. Customer-Centric Approach: Put your customers at the heart of your process improvements. Understand their needs, preferences, and pain points to tailor your processes accordingly. A customer-centric mindset ensures that your business aligns with what drives profitability – delivering value to your clients. 

5. Cross-functional Collaboration: Break down silos and encourage collaboration among different departments. Bring together diverse perspectives to analyse the overall system and identify areas for optimisation. This cross-functional approach will lead to well-rounded solutions that enhance the entire process. 

Systems thinking equips people to analyse not just isolated components but the entire ecosystem of their operations. By addressing issues at their root cause and optimising interdependent interactions, organisations can achieve sustainable growth and adapt to changing market dynamics more effectively. When we measure our success not by how many features we deliver to the customer, but by the value we add to the bigger picture, we learn to ask different questions that lead to better outcomes. 

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