Viable System Model and Group Dynamics cycle
I’m currently trundling my way through writing the next book, The Service Oriented Enterprise – still on-track for publication at the end of this month, I’m delighted to say – and came across an interesting point about Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model that I hadn’t noted before. It may be important for anyone who’s applying systems-theory principles in enterprise-architecture.
I base much of my architecture-work on a rethink of Tuckman’s Group Dynamics project-lifecycle as an overview-model of the overall workings of an enterprise:
- forming: purpose, identity, strategy; also far-future
- storming: people-issues; kind-of orthogonal to time – anywhere from far-future to far-past
- norming: plans and schedules; also near-future
- performing: production; also ‘now!‘
- adjourning (or mourning): completions; also near- to mid-past
But when we look at the management-section of Beer’s Viable System Model, only three of those five are covered:
- system-5 ‘policy’: aligns to ‘forming’
- system-4 ‘strategy’: aligns to later part of ‘forming’, plus ‘norming’
- system-3 ‘direction’: aligns to later part of ‘norming’, plus ‘performing’
(For those who don’t know the VSM, ‘system-2’ is about inter-process coordination, and ‘system-1’ about service-delivery, the detail-level of the ‘performing’ phase: they don’t really apply here.)
There’s no VSM coverage at all of the ‘storming’ phase, the people-issues – which seems odd, considering Beer’s very strong personal bent towards left-wing participatory politics. And although VSM ‘system-3*’, random-audit, does sort-of touch the ‘adjourning’ phase, it’s only on a very occasional basis – not the continuous process needed for completions and lessons-learned and the like.
This may stem from the VSM’s history as a model of the information flows for management and the like; but it still seems a huge hole in the coverage of what’s actually needed for systemic design of management processes. Is there any way that the VSM does actually cover that hole? And if not, what would we need to do to fill it?