Systems Thinking – The Continuous Improvement Subsystem of the PDOS

In previous videos we talked about a framework we’ve developed for looking at product development as a system. In the last two videos and posts we talked about two of the subsystems, both of them flow systems, one being information flow and one being workflow. The third subsystem of the Product Development Operating System is the system of Continuous Improvement. This subsystem is often missing when we begin to work with an organization, and in organizations that are “committed” to continuous improvement; in many cases the efforts are ad-hoc and underwhelming

If you’re familiar with the works of Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you are probably familiar with his thesis about the tension between our urgent work and important work, and how our urgent work tends to overwhelm our important work. We see this in product development where we see continuous improvement as the important work. Often times it gets pushed aside and overwhelmed by the urgent work of completing projects.

Patrick Lencioni, an author whose work I enjoy reading, talks about the metrics of organizations. He talks about the ultimate metric of an organization as being the health of the organization. In our Product Development Operating System we see the health of your product development system as the ultimate metric of your productivity and effectiveness. It brings to mind the aphorism from Chinese medicine that says, “There is only one disease; congestion. There is only one cure; circulation.” The circulation in product development is the flow systems. The Continuous Improvement subsystem is the system for increasing the overall health of those flows, of the system, and the effectiveness and productivity of the product development system.

The Continuous Improvement subsystem of the product development system has three constituent parts. Each one aligns with a different tier of the organization. There is Strategy. This aligns with the executive tier. The executive tier looks to build a shared vision; a vision of the future of the organization that, collectively, we’re all working to realize. Another element of the continuous improvement subsystem centers on subject mater experts and the increasing their expertise, their development, and the deepening of their expertise and the expansion of competency within the organization. The third element in the continuous improvement subsystem is the importation and development of a root cause problem-solving methodology, specifically one that is appropriate for knowledge workers — the workers that populate product development.

If you bring improvement energies to your product development system, you need to bring a certain threshold of energy just to maintain your current state. If you will, to counter balance the destructive work of entropy. To make significant and continuous improvement you need to invest more energy into the subsystem. You need to invest significant energies into a continuous improvement subsystem that will eventually lead to increased productivity and increased effectiveness of your overall product development operating system.


Contact us to learn more about how Systems Thinking and the application of our Product Development Operating System can help your organization become more efficient, productive, innovative, and competitive.

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