I was fortunate enough to attend The Leaders Summit organised by John Seddon’s company, Vanguard. The day unfolded with plenty of people talking about applying systems thinking/lean thinking to various environments.

Given Seddon’s experience with the public sector, I wasn’t surprised by the large number of people from other public sector organisations. In fact, given the perceived ineffectiveness of many public services, I’m all for this enthusiasm and interest.

Some of my key takeaways follow, however it’s definitely worth while checking out the, very much more detailed and thorough, blogging from Benjamin Mitchell here.

Change is hard – agile transformations, same for systems thinking transformations
A lot of the presenters talked about the difficult positions they were in before looking toward systems thinking. They all had their critics, all the usual people not wanting to do things differently, and support or lack of support from management. For example, one speaker, Denise Lyons from East Devon District Council encountered the “That’s how we’ve always done it around here” mentality.

Another speaker had to sneak their change program through existing mechanisms for change and business efficiencies. Even the questions asked by the audience reflected this.

I found this interesting as these are often the same problems we see, trying to introduce agile values into the software delivery capabilities of organisations. Even many of methods for helping people with change were the same.

Pragmatic Improvement
One of the questions we often struggle with, applying lean and agile to the software delivery part of an organisation, is should we really be working on the entire organisation structure. Listening to some of the speakers is that it’s worth starting somewhere and build on that success.

Rob Brown talks about the long changes still to go rolling systems thinking out to the rest of the organisation, but there was plenty of value already generated by implementing it in that area. For example, they still have to deal with the HR challenges of annual appraisals and all the budgeting games of the larger organisation.

All the speakers emphasised the way of starting small, and building on that success. Of course, this still ensures that you take as large of a systemic view as much as possible. Some of the constraints will be out of your control.

Labels don’t really matter
As much as everyone used the labels of the Vanguard consultants, I found it refreshing to hear about people really understanding the ideas behind lean thinking from a systems perspective without getting too hung up on the labels. One of the people talked about instead of “interventions”, they did “reviews”. It was also refreshing to get Dr Steven Allder, someone who came to systems and lean thinking through Peter Senge who didn’t use the same labels but you could see the same thinking behind it.