Week 26: A Systemigram of the Canteen

Hello Systems Thinkers,

A little bit of front end skiving

I hope you’ve had a good week.  We had an enjoyable, but brief session yesterday.  Only four of us could make it, and the room we use was occupied by others having what looked like a very difficult meeting for the first 30 mins of the session.  We could have turfed them out, but left them to it and had an enjoyable and laid back discussion about the similarities and differences manufacturing and healthcare organisations.  We’ll follow this up in the future.

A Rich Picture…..

When we finally got going with our session, the four of us stood around a flip chart and worked on creating a Rich Picture to express our “system of interest”.  That being the dynamic situation that exists for the combined staff canteen and meals on wheels operation based in our office building now that a “posh” food retail outlet is about to open across the road.  It was an enjoyable exercise and it certainly got us discussing what’s going on and the potential dynamics between the stakeholders and system elements.

…..ended up being a Systemigram

By the end of the session, I realised I had reverted to my usual bubble and arrow type of diagram, and that it probably resembled a Systemigram more than a Rich Picture.  Because of that, I spent some time last night using “Systemitool” to work up and develop a bit further the work we did as a Systemigram.  Here’s the result:

Manorwood Canteen Systemigram
Manorwood Canteen Systemigram

It’s not too dissimilar to a Rich Picture and does pretty much the same job.  Perhaps this format doesn’t go quite as far in exploring and expressing how the relationships and activities feel.  For example, where there are tensions, and what motivates people.  We can take this and work on it further to do that.  It’s also a bit of a no no to use software to draft a Rich Picture, as it kind of limits expression and group participation in a way that paper and pens don’t.

We’ve made an assumption about where our system boundary is with this, and that’s something we’ll need to revisit.  Should we include the canteen’s food suppliers for example?  Should we include other local dining options?

Have we unpacked the complexity sufficiently?  I’m sure there are lots of relationships, incentives, motivations, dynamics, tensions, frustrations, etc. we haven’t uncovered here.  We’ll explore further and make some judgements about what matters to us in exploring this problem.

Perhaps next week we’ll print off a copy and then take a pen to it to express those things.  For now, I think we’ve made a good start on exploring and expressing the “problem space”.

Boardman & Sauser

A little background on Systemigams.  I know about them as our friend Gary Smith (a previous special guest) suggested I look at them.  They have been developed and pioneered by John Boardman and Brian Sauser. They wrote this book, which I bought and read earlier in the year.  It’s pretty good and gives a nice overview as to why Systems Thinking is helpful for approaching, understanding and solving complex organisational problems; and then explains and shows how to create Systemigrams.  Their own creation.  Let me know if you’d like to borrow the book.  For now, here’s a google image search with lots of examples.

So, that will do for today. I wish you a restful weekend,


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