9 years, 4 months ago

Modeling Enterprise Architectures using System Dynamics

Link: http://workitsmart.blogspot.com/2012/08/modeling-enterprise-architectures-using.html

System Dynamics model for adoption of a new product
(source: Patrhoue)

System Dynamics, a field invented by MIT professor Jay Forrester, was created by adapting engineering control theory into social-economic domains.  It was first used to solve supply chains challenges, then urbanization issues, then global sustainability issues, and now applied to many other fields.  At first glance, System Dynamics’ approach to solving problem sounds similar to some approaches in Enterprise Architecture (EA).  It seeks to create pictorial representations of the situation to help stakeholders understand what is going on, providing a powerful decision support tool for decision makers and policy makers.  In EA, views of organizations are created to capture key elements of organizations to achieve impacts similar to those mentioned.  However, looking deeper, System Dynamics is not an alternative to EA, but can actually complement EA.  In fact, System Dynamics might one day become an indispensable tool for Enterprise Architects in understanding and communicating dynamics within organizations.

The key value System Dynamics bring to EA, in my opinion, is to provide EA with the missing third dimension for describing enterprises.

System Dynamics adds the missing third dimension to EA

EA views provide visibility into the major components in an organization (e.g. the main business processes and business data) and how these pieces depend and inter-relate with one another (e.g. linkages between business process and data).  However, it is not clear how the organization will behave when changes occur in the organization.  For example, how well does the current organization structure and human resource policies support the assimilation of new hires?  System Dynamics offer tools to describe such dynamics.

System Dynamics describes dynamics in systems primarily by identifying feedback loops.  For example, in the new hires example, one feedback loop at play is the “teach a man to fish” loop.  Here, as existing employees spend time mentoring new hires, the productivity of new hires increases and soon the new hires become more capable of sharing in existing workload.  The sharing of workload eases the burden on existing employees, giving them even more time to mentor the new hires. This becomes a positive reinforcing cycle that is very helpful to the organization.  In most organizations, there are also other loops at play that counter this positive dynamic.  The key value System Dynamics offer to organizations then is helping them identify such key loops in their organizations, as well as key levers for influencing those loops.  In the new hire example, a key lever would be the amount of work of teams where new hires are added.  My friend Kai Siang wrote an article that elaborates further on this new hire example.

System Dynamics also offer tools for understanding the dynamics of different future state designs.  By leveraging on computer simulation, System Dynamics is able to provide insights to decision makers on how different organization designs can impact the behavior of their organizations.

Furthermore, in reading System Dynamics materials, I found several best practices that are often heard in EA:

1. All models are wrong – don’t strive to emulate reality, but think of models as tools to help human thinking.
2. Creating the model is not the end goal!  Skills in group facilitation, enabling organizational learning and getting the needed results are also very important.

3. Making mental models explicit might look trivial, but it is key to facilitating useful discussion!

4. People will have different views of what is the “correct” mental model.  Don’t get too caught up with that, simply capture the conflicting views and move on.
5. People feel more comfortable to comment on the mental model drawn on a board or a piece of paper, as it is more seen as critiquing an object rather than attacking a person.
It would be interesting to investigate further the intersection between Enterprise Architecture and System Dynamics.  A quick web search revealed a 2010 paper that possibly address this area.  I will definitely welcome any pointers to work done in this area.