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After extensive research Peter Senge, author of the book The Fifth Discipline, found patterns that were common among the situations he studied; a couple of loops that occurred in multiple situations: the archetypes.
Archetypes can be considered as stereotypes of problematic situations. When analyzing a situation they are the standard patterns you look for.
In this post I will describe two archetypes:
- Shifting The Burden
- Fixes That Backfire
Image by Terry Wha.
Shifting The Burden
With Shifting The Burden a problem is only superficially fixed and not at its root. A problem occurs and a corrective measure is put into place. However, this is a symptomatic solution that doesn’t tackle the fundamental problem. The fundamental solution takes time; there is a delay before its effects will be visible.
Because of the delay the fundamental solution is harder to find, or more costly to implement. But as the symptomatic solution has only side effects (negative) on the fundamental problem, the situation will not be solved, and will even deteriorate.
(note: the hourglass in the diagrams indicate a delay)
Two information systems have an interface running from system A to system B. Short after going live many data records are marked as error on the receiving end at system B.
The fundamental solution would be to analyze the records properly, perhaps do some redesign and code fixing. However that will take time (delay). The short-term symptomatic solution is to just “fix” the erroneous records by updating the fields that cause the errors.
At first this does the trick, however after doing this for a while the backlog of wrong records is large; one cannot keep up with fixing the data records. Because of the large amount errors are cascading, making the situation worse and worse.
Fixes That Backfire
Within this system you have two loops that interfere with each other: there is a problematic situation that is solved by a short term (quick) solution. However this loop has unintended consequences that only make the situation worse. The quick fix that bites you in the back.
The sneaky part here is that there is a delay in the backfire: you will only see the unintended consequences after a while.
Suppose you have a software system under development. The quality is not good enough and it is not addressing the right business issues. You assume that this is caused by the lack of quality that your user
group brings into the project: they have a hard time formulating the requirements, they have no experience in testing, and seem to resist change in general.
A quick solution is to bring in external consultants. They will analyze the requirements, they will even do all the testing for you. You actually leave the end users completely out of the loop. Quality of the software increases, and the speed of your project progress is going up.
However, because the lack of involvement, there comes a time when the end users are needed for crucial information, or even in the end, when they have to use the system. It is not their system, it’s yours.
They will not help you out with the important info, and will not accept the system as something they really want to adopt. Which in the end lowers the quality of the system and ruins your chances of reaching the business goals set for the new system.
Two other archetypes: Limits To Growth and Tragedy Of The Commons.
This a post in my series about using systems thinking for analyzing problems in projects.
1. Systems Thinking: A Technique To Find Project Problems
2. Systems Thinking: Looking For Causal Loops
3. Shifting The Burden And Fixes That Backfire – Archetypes Part 1
4. Limits To Growth And Tragedy Of The Commons – Archetypes Part 2
5. Systems View – Final Analysis