Ok, so I am a few pages into the Michael George book: “Lean Six Sigma for Services.” But I’m putting it down now for good. In the chapter entitled: “The Value in Conquering Complexity,” I am struck with the misuse of the term ‘complexity’ when what is meant is ‘complicated.’ The case study shows that a certain service offering was customized for several hundred clients, each with their own ‘pathway’ towards receiving that service. Mr. George then labels this ‘complexity.’ On the next page, he makes it clear with a parenthetical that defines complexity as “the variety of products and services.”
The failure to understand, or to be less blunt, address, core concepts in organizational theory is striking. Complexity refers to systems (such as Earth, human beings, businesses) whose properties emerge as the system interacts with its environment. A complicated situation as described by multiple customized pathways brings to mind pipes in a boiler room, or network cables under a server room floor. These images can be confusing to the eye, and hard to track, but the relationships are knowable. A complex metaphor moves beyond knowable pathways.
Complex systems defy causality chains. Graph a brainstorming session. What is the exact process by which a team of four professionals gather on a Thai beach and create lasting value? What is the effect of the remote locale, the different food on the cognitive processes within each? What is role of the increased trust network after six weeks swatting bugs and fighting off a rogue monkey? (Read the story, trust me about the monkey.)
This book, and presumably the application of Lean or Six Sigma to services forms, presumes that the findings in organizational theory regarding work being done in the “organizational chart white spaces” represents inefficiencies in human endeavor – not reality. This school of thought apparently holds that the only reason the gossip network is the most reliable form of communication, or the organizational chart rarely represents true power relationships or work networks – is because we have not yet driven humans back to the formal organizational processes.
Believing this is an act of faith that is beyond my abilities. Businesses are actually complex adaptive systems. Wikipedia credits John Holland with this definition:
“A Complex Adaptive System (CAS) is a dynamic network of many agents (which may represent cells, species, individuals, firms, nations) acting in parallel, constantly acting and reacting to what the other agents are doing. The control of a CAS tends to be highly dispersed and decentralized. If there is to be any coherent behavior in the system, it has to arise from competition and cooperation among the agents themselves. The overall behavior of the system is the result of a huge number of decisions made every moment by many individual agents”
Mr. George’s book either ignores the finding that businesses are complex adaptive systems, or he believes that the agents can be made more efficient by mapping how each “gets to Y (results).” I lack the ability to wrap my mind around this, as it violates everything that is known and published regarding CAS. The quality movement is here to stay, and I need to find a way to accommodate those who believe in the LSS silver bullet – while keeping in mind how humans actually work and interact to create value.