System

How to assess the systemic problem and who is experiencing it

At the centre of the Canvas is the system being worked on.

Assuming that the current situation is not perfect, and there is always room for improvement, then understanding the scope of the system helps focus on the biggest opportunities for improvement and avoids “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”? By thinking about the situation as part of a holistic system, and having clarity on the scope of the system, we are more likely to identifying opportunities which improve the whole, rather than making smaller, local improvements, which might worsen the whole.

This leads to the question of what is the scope of the system. Defining the system to be too small, might not lead to any significant improvements. Equally defining the system to be too large, might be like trying to “boil the ocean”.

One way of understanding the system is to look at the people involved, and explore what problems those people are having. Narrative is an extremely useful form of doing this - finding and telling stories about people’s experiences and frustration with their work. In particular, the stories related to the customers and stakeholders will start to identify the boundaries of the system.

One fun way of exploring the system through narrative is by using the Pixar Pitch, leaving the “Until Finally…” section blank to investigate Impact.

Impacts

How to assess the fitness criteria in terms of flow, value and potential

The three arrows coming out of the right of the system are desired Impacts to be made. These Impacts encourage a focus on what success is going to look like, before any changes get made.

Given that in most situations, we are dealing with complex problems, where cause and effect are only apparent with hindsight, and past solutions are not necessarily repeatable in the future, then we should not try to define a specific future state to solve the problem. However, that does not mean that we cannot determine the characteristics of a successful solution so we can assess their fitness criteria, or how fit for purpose a solution is.

Impact is an evaluation of fitness for purpose. A successful solution is one which has positive impact and an unsuccessful solution is what which has negative (or no) impact. Impact can be thought of as direction, as opposed to a point solution being a specific destination.

Having explored the scope of the system through narrative, we can also begin to define impact in a similar way by asking what stories do we want to hear more of, or less off, in the future. When using the Pixar Pitch technique, imaging impossible good and bad endings to the story brings out exaggerated scenarios which can be compared against by asking whether system is becoming more or less like the suggested endings. Getting both good and bad endings allows both positive and negative impact to be easily imagined and identified.

When imagining the future, to create a range of diverse possibilities, the Impacts on Flow, Value and Potential are used to encourage thinking from different perspectives. See the Impacts page for more on these.

Interventions

How to assess the evolutionary potential in terms of studying, sharing, stabilising, sensing and searching

The five arrows going into the left of the system are the potential Interventions that could be made. These Interventions provide a frame for appreciating the intent behind various practices, learning and discovering which ways of working are the right ones for the current situation, and transforming those practices as the system continuously evolves.

Working through the interventions encourages continuous curiosity about which tools and techniques to use, understanding when and why they are appropriate, and ultimately collaboratively, co-creating an initial kanban system as a baseline to begin experimenting and improving.

The interventions used are to Study the context, Share the understanding, Stabilise the work, Sense the capability and Search the alternatives. See the Interventions page for more on these.

The Guide provides some more detail on how to use the Kanban Canvas.