Week 24: The Restaurant Experience Rich Pictures

Hello Team STA,

This was a good week.  The subject of Rich Pictures seems to have clicked much more securely than it had last week.

Thanks to our friends Stuart and Julian

I want to thank Stuart Burge for his guidance last week and suggestion of using a previous restaurant experience as the basis for a Rich Picture.  I also want to thank regular blog reader and commenter Julian Johnson for getting in touch last weekend with an example of his own experience of taking his family out for a meal the night before.  Very helpful Julian!  And to anyone out there who reads the blog and has thoughts on what we’re doing, please don’t be shy.  Just comment in the fields at the bottom of posts.

The central thing I took away from these pointers is that one need not get too caught up in the correctness of what a Rich Picture is.  The important thing is to tell a story of what happened, or what is going on.  A regular process flow, but with richer information about how well the process is working and how it feels to be in it, is OK.

It’s easier when  it’s familiar and personal

Apart from the obvious fact that we’re now a little bit more experienced and practised than we were last week, I think another reason things were better this week is because of the example we used.  The restaurant example certainly felt more real, personal and easier to engage with than the Five Year Forward View example we’d been grappling with the previous week.  That’s something to bear in mind, and as we’ll see, has informed the case study we’re going to use.

Jan is this week’s star

We don’t have prizes for Systems Thinker of the week, but if we did, it would surely go to Jan.  She only joined the group a month or so ago, but has taken to the work with flying colours.

Jan, Lee and I had decided to get together for lunch the day before our STA session to work on a joint Rich Picture.  When we met, it turned out Jan had cracked on and already produced one for her own memorable restaurant experience.  A meal in a high end hotel restaurant in Amsterdam to celebrate an important wedding anniversary.  Here is her picture:

Jan's memorable anniversary meal
Jan’s memorable anniversary meal

So good was this, that we decided not to create another, but had a very good discussion about her experience, how she had expressed it and we carried on to get into how one could use this to start understanding how the restaurant operated from a systemic point of view, and also what the requirements would be to create another restaurant able to replicate this type of experience.  In her brilliance, Jan had already put some thought into decomposing this into various functions and activities. Here’s her sketched notes:

How the restaurant works
How the restaurant works
Deciding where to take the family

We continued this discussion in the group session yesterday.  We also had a look at a Rich Picture Matt had kindly draft and let us have, even though he couldn’t be at the session.  His depicts the decision making process that was involved in his family deciding where to eat at the end of a happy day out at the seaside.  Here is is:

Where to take the family to eat
Where to take the family to eat
It’s hard to integrate multiple viewpoints

I won’t recount all of the discussions we had, but in short we explored where we think we can still improve in creating these pictures.  Taking into account multiple viewpoints was expressed as one thing that’s difficult to do and we will need to hone our abilities in doing that.  We spoke about the next stage in the process of deciding where to draw our system boundary and then begin to create “Root Definitions” for the overall system of interest and then the sub-systems within it.  We’ll move into all of that in much greater detail in the coming weeks.

We’re going downstairs to the canteen

Finally, we spent some time discussing what we should do for homework and an idea for a case study to work on with SSM in the weeks to come.  Sticking with the the theme of restaurants, we’ve decided to use the staff canteen in our building as the example.  It’s something we’re all reasonably familiar with and have personal experiences and views of. It is also relatively contained and straightforward to look at.  This might mean it’s not ideal for SSM, which is designed to deal with social complexity in a situation, but there is enough complexity for it to be a good example for we beginners to start with.

The original purpose of the facility is/was actually to prepare meals to be delivered out to the community as part of the “meals on wheels” service.  The provision of meals for staff is actually as secondary activity.  Further to that, across the road from the office is a petrol station that previously sold relatively low quality sandwiches etc. and also had a fast food outlet in it.  This is currently being refurbished and instead, a premium food retailer will operate from there and one assumes there will be a higher standard of lunchtime options available. What will be the effect of this changing competition on the staff canteen?  The problem does at least look mildly wicked.

So, get you paper and pencils out

So, the task for this week’s homework is to create Rich Pictures that express this situation.  It will be interesting to see how we get on.  We’re not necessarily trying to answer a specific question or to make any particular improvement or change, so this might make the exercise a little unfocused, but it will be interesting to find out if that is the case.  It’s a good starting point.  Let’s see where it takes us.

Enjoy your weekend,


1 thought on “Week 24: The Restaurant Experience Rich Pictures”

  1. Hi. Two things leap out of this post for me: 1) challenge of different viewpoints; 2) what is the meaning of the elements in a rich picture. Reminded me of work I did many years ago looking across the diagrams and other notations (like tables) that systems engineers make use of in their work.

    On the item 1), its a problem that is even recognised in ‘big developments’, where enterprise architecture (EA) terminologies and architecture definitions come into the frame. Many EA are organised around EA Frameworks, and an underpinning for these is in a international standard ISO 42010, systems and software engineering – architecture definition. I’m NOT suggesting you go off an get 42010, but its philosophy is to recognise some interrelated concepts: stakeholders, concerns, viewpoints, views. Typical developments have many stakeholders; each of these has one or more concerns; concerns need to be framed with a viewpoint, and a viewpoint may need one or more views with which to express its aspects. So you are not alone!

    On 2), meanings of rich pictures and diags in general. Most diagram types are made up symbols and lines, or nodes and links. In structured diagrams (those with a well defined meaning) different symbols are used for nodes with different meanings, and likewise for links. Interestingly I came across some categories of diagrams where symbol placement itself had meaning, for instance: a frame around a diagram may have cells with particular meaning, or relative placement of symbols might meaning something, in addition to how connected (organisational chart, anyone?). Rich pictures seem to often have elements of both types of diagram organisation (examples above illustrate). An example of the relative placement on rich pictures (and not because of one symbol being ‘linked’ to another) might be: Symbol for Org-1 placed near symbol for Org-2, and in the space between a ‘brick wall’. The drawing says it all! Alternatively you could see the brick wall replaced with a ‘shaking fist’; carries a different but very useful meaning.

    In summary: yes, non-trivial systems embrace multiple stakeholders and different aspects (structure, behaviour, characteristics…) which may need ‘rich’ diagrams to illustrate, or need multiple diagrams (different perspectives) to pull aspects apart. And (in my view) don’t anguish too much about semantics of rich pictures, because they will present multiple aspects and snippets – their value is that they represent a particular stakeholders perspectives on the enterprise in question.

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