Saturday, 27 July 2013

The best way to conduct a retrospective meeting

Retrospective meetings on SCRUM IT development projects are held at the end of the sprint (usually at 2, 3 or 4 week intervals). The purpose of this meeting is to collectively find out how the team can become better and more effective.

If you are not doing SCRUM development projects you can still use this meeting style. It is all about learning and continuous improvements so this should be relevant for any team (3-8 persons) that is working together over a long period of time, in any type of organization.

Over the years I have been on many development projects and tried different approaches to the retrospective meeting. The following format and structure seem to work very well.

Duration 

2 hours. Usually you will see others saying 1 hour is enough. I think 1 hour can be a bit too short (if you are more than 4 persons) because then you don't really get the time to discuss and "analyze" issues.

Roles

You will need one facilitator (In SCRUM this will be the Scrum master). The facilitator can simply be one of the team members.

Who should attend?

The core team including designers and testers. Scrum master/project lead and product owner.

Preparations

In your daily work keep a notebook at your desk. Immediately when you recognize a possible issue or idea suitable for the retrospective then write it down. Keep one page in your notebook dedicated to notes for the next retrospective. This way you avoid going to the retrospective meeting with a blank head. Even though the meeting is held every 2, 3 or 4 weeks it can be hard to remember things that happened during the sprint.  

The meeting

Timeline

The facilitator initiates the meeting and draws a timeline on a whiteboard. Indicate on the timeline the start date and end date of the sprint. Also put in the half sprint date on the middle of the timeline so it is easier to position post-it notes later.

Each participant then writes down events that happened during the sprint. This should be limited to events that affected the team in some way. Each participant will sit around a table and try to come up with notes without looking on the notes of the others. Write with big letters so it is easy to read when it is put up on the whiteboard.

Events should be relevant. Negative events that seem to be reoccurring should get extra attention. Other private stuff can often be left out. If for example you moved to a new apartment and had to take a day off and where distracted during the sprint, this will affect the team but there's no need to mention it here because there's probably nothing you or the team could do about it, and there's nothing the team can learn from it.

Take turns and put up a post-it note for each (positive and negative) event. No need to discuss each post-it note here. Just be objective and concise. The post-its will make the next step much easier.


What went well and what went not so well

Now start a new round where each participant tries to come up with notes for things that did not go as smooth as it could. On a separate wall or area of the whiteboard take turn and present your note.

The events in the previous step will help you remember things that did not go as well as it could. Each participant presents their note and how they experienced it. Do not make suggestions for solutions at this point and above all do not blame others.

Remember that others may have experienced it totally different. The important point to make here is that all team members get to discuss and share their perspective. Typically you'll discuss it as a problem and what this problem leads to. How severe is the problem? Maybe you are the only one seeing the problem. In that case maybe you need to change your perception of the issue.  

Another important point to make here is that talking about things that did not work out very well can be difficult. It can even become uncomfortable or stressful. Now it's important that you act as a team and help each other. Be honest. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Also, think in systems. When someone messes up, it is usually the system that allows or encourages him or her to do so. Find the underlying causes. Here the 5 whys technique can help to find the root cause of the problem. When a person does something he shouldn't then recognize that there is a weakness in the system. If someone made it happen, it might happen again. Change the system, not the person.

Now take another round of post-it writing. This time it will be more positive and uplifting. Write down what went well. Here you can take the opportunity to pat your team members on the shoulder. If they took initiative to improve something but did not succeed you can still make a note on the effort. You an also brag about what you yourself did that you think worked out particularly well. Usually there's not much to discuss here but it is still important. Most people thrive when they get positive recognition from their peers.


Looking back to the previous retrospective meeting

The facilitator now put up the post-it's from the last retrospective on what to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. In the previous meeting you made some suggestions for change. Now you can evaluate the changes that have been made since last time. Did you see any improvements? Has anything been done at all about the things you identified in the previous round? Sometimes people agree to make changes, but when you meet up at the next retrospective, nothing has changed. In this case you may want to evaluate your incentive systems. Boring tasks are often postponed when the reward seem low, intangible or distant.


Suggest changes

The facilitator draws 3 columns and adds post-it's from the last meeting. Based on what changes were made this sprint you can now suggest adjustments by coming up with ideas for what to start doing or stop doing. Combine this with solutions for the newly identified problems (what did not go so well). Each participant makes another round with post-it's:
  • Stop doing
  • Continue doing
  • Start doing
This again is discussed in the group. If there is a consensus on a topic the post it will be transferred to the next retrospective. In many cases the stop, continue and start doing thing will be a bit vague. In that case you will need to make more concrete action points. Some of the items will be for the whole team or some of the team members to do. Other items may be for the organization to carry out. In the latter case it will be the responsibility of the scrummaster/project lead to see that it is actually carried out.

Prioritize action points and follow up on them. Put them in your product backlog, to-do list, task tracking system, podio, basecamp or whatever you are using. The items may even be new innovative ideas to register in your idea management system. I happen to work for a company that is developing idea management software. Visit our website inductsoftware.com for idea management software to improve your organization's innovation capacity.

Learn more about retrospective meetings at the Agile Retrospective Resource Wiki.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

10 reasons to become a vegetarian, and the science to back it up

Working as a programmer is not really promoting good health, sitting in front of computers 10 hours a day often with work related stress. Since a kid I have had a condition of Atopic Dermatitis which comes with a weakened immune system, so naturally I look for ways to strengthen my immune system.

This year I have decided to become a semi-vegetarian in order to stay healthy. Becoming more vegetarian also has many other benefits so I have compiled a list of benefits to encourage others to also consider cutting down on animal based foods.

Reasons to become a vegetarian

  1. Better health.
  2. Prevent cancer. 
  3. Weight control.
  4. Healthy mind. 
  5. Save the environment.
  6. Support sustainable development.
  7. Ethics.
  8. Reduce the effects of aging. 
  9. Save money.
  10. Smart people tend to become vegetarians.

Details

1. Better health

The combined results from five studies in 1999 involving more than 76,000 people compared the incidence of disease among vegetarians to that of nonvegetarians with similar lifestyles. Mortality from heart disease was 24% lower in vegetarians than nonvegetarians [1].

A number of environmental toxins build up in animal tissues and are found in meat. According to the FDA, studies suggest that exposure to dioxin-like compounds (DLCs) may lead to a variety of adverse health effects, including reproductive and developmental problems, cardiovascular disease, increased diabetes and increased cancer [2],[3].

A 1985 Swedish study demonstrated that individuals with asthma practicing a vegan diet for a full year have a marked decrease in the need for medications [4].

A vegetarian diet contains more antioxidants. Antioxidants mop up free radicals that cause chronic inflammation [5],[6],[7].

Gout [8], kidney stones [9] and other diseases are also associated with an animal based diet.

Avoid consuming residues of antibiotics, veterinary drugs, heavy metals and other non-degrading toxins. According to an analysis of U.S. Food and Drug Administration data by the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future, 80% of all antibiotics sold in 2009 were for use on livestock and poultry [10].

You seldom get sick from a vegetable but food poisoning from Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella etc in meat and seafood is not unusual [39].

2. Prevent cancer

Large studies in England and Germany have shown that vegetarians are about 40% less likely to develop cancer compared to meat-eaters [11][12].

Vegetarians avoid animal fat linked to cancer and get abundant fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals that help to prevent cancer. Vegetarians also have a higher level of white blood cells that attack cancer cells [13].

Several studies published since 1990 indicate that cooking meat creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs) [14] which can cause cancer.

Residues of artificial hormones that are widely used to promote growth in beef cattle, dairy cows and sheep may increase the risk of breast, prostate and colorectal cancer in humans [15],[16].

3. Weight reduction

A study in 2009 found that vegetarians and vegans had body weights 3% to 20% lower than meat eaters [17].

Cutting out red meat in general is associated with lower body weight [18],[19].

4. Healthy mind

Cholesterol is now linked to Alzheimer’s decease [20],[21]. Plants do not contain cholesterol.

There is also a trend towards delayed onset of dementia in vegetarians [22].

5. Save the environment

In Latin America, 20 million hectares of tropical forest have been converted to cattle pasture since 1970. Deforestation has had a devastating impact on plant and animal diversity in Latin America [23].

Pound for pound, beef production generates greenhouse gases that contribute more than 57 times as much to global warming as do the gases emitted from producing potatoes [24].

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) there are 1.4 billion cattle and 1.1 billion sheep on the planet producing 37% of the total methane generated by human activity. Methane is 20 times more potent at trapping greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide [25].

In a study in California from 2009 researchers found that a nonvegetarian diet required 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides than a vegetarian diet [40].

An assessment from 2002 in the Netherlands suggests that on average the complete life cycle environmental impact of nonvegetarian meals may be roughly a factor 1.5–2 higher than the effect of vegetarian meals in which meat has been replaced by vegetable protein [41]. A recent study in the Journal of Climatic Change from 2014 [42] came to just about the same conclusion.

On average vegetarian diets have an environmental advantage but exceptions may occur. Long-distance air transport, deep-freezing, and some horticultural practices may lead to environmental impacts exceeding those for locally produced organic meat. Keep in mind that on a large scale organic meat has higher carbon footprint as it requires more land which means less forest to bind carbon dioxide.

6. Supporting sustainable development

The rising animal based food intake is related to several global crises such water, climate, and energy [26].

One pound of pork that provides between 1000 and 2000 calories takes 14,000 calories of energy to produce [27].

Several places on the planet are experiencing a water shortage. The production of meat requires between six and twenty times more water than for cereals [28].

The increasing global water crisis is already affecting some regions of the world (in 10-20 years the icecaps in the Himalayas will be gone, major source of water for India and China) [29].

China and India are also booming economies, and their meat and dairy consumption has increased significantly in the last decades. In China the number of adults with more than 10% of their caloric intake from these animal foods increased with 17.6% from 2000 to 2006 [30].

A growing human population is increasingly relying on unsustainable agricultural practices. As world population approaches nine billion, global food demand is expected to double in the next fifty years [31]. Because of the increased food demand, we as a species run the risk of depleting our natural resources and degrading the environment.

8. Ethics

Avoid the mass slaughtering of animals for your pleasure. 10 billion land animals were raised and killed for food in the United States in 2010 [32].

Although direct measurement of subjective experiences or emotions in farm animals is not possible they do feel pain [33]. By reducing your meat intake you decrease the market demand for animal based food. Less demand means less need for factory farming which is often associated with animal cruelty [34].

9. Reduce the effects of aging 

Evidence suggests that eating whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, all rich in networks of antioxidants, provides protection against many of these signs of aging [35].

Antioxidant-rich foods seem to have a protective effect for the skin [36].

7. Save money

Reduce your future health care costs. The total annual US medical costs attributable to meat consumption have been estimated to something in the order of 30-60 billion $ [37].

Vegetables can be stored longer before it has to be thrown away and it tends to cost less. Vegetarian meals at restaurants usually cost less than other meat dishes.

10. Smart people tend to become vegetarians

In a British study of more than 8,000 participants IQ was measured over a period of 20 years starting at age 10. The study showed that higher IQ had a strong correlation with being a vegetarian [38].

If not science can convince you of cutting down on meat then maybe role models can. Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Darwin, Pythagoras, Leonardo Da Vinci, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison were all vegetarians.

11. (Bonus) Build personal strength

By cutting down on meat you make a conscious choice. It shows that you care and are willing to make sacrifices. This helps to build character. By reducing your meat consumption you will not save the planet but you will improve your health, build personal integrity and strength, as well as contributing to a better world  for all


References

[1] Key TJ, Fraser GE, Thorogood M, Appleby PN, Beral V, Reeves G, Burr ML, Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Kuzma JW, Mann J, McPherson K. (1999) Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):516S-524S. PubMed PMID: 10479225.

[2] Questions and Answers About Dioxins, Interagency Working Group on Dioxin (representatives from the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Agriculture, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Commerce, Department of State, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy), October 2004.

[3] U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). (2006) An inventory of sources and environmental releases of dioxin-like compounds in the United States for the years 1987, 1995, and 2000. National Center for Environmental Assessment, Washington, DC; EPA/600/P-03/002F. http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=159286

[4] Lindahl O, Lindwall L, SpÄngberg A, Stenram A, Ockerman PA. (1985) Vegan regimen with reduced medication in the treatment of bronchial asthma. J Asthma. 1985;22(1):45-55. PubMed PMID: 4019393.

[5] Bakker GC, van Erk MJ, Pellis L, Wopereis S, Rubingh CM, Cnubben NH, Kooistra T, van Ommen B, Hendriks HF. "An antiinflammatory dietary mix modulates inflammation and oxidative and metabolic stress in overweight men: a nutrigenomics approach." Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Apr;91(4):1044-59.

[6] Galland L. Diet and inflammation. Nutr Clin Pract. 2010 Dec;25(6):634-40. doi:
10.1177/0884533610385703. Review. PubMed PMID: 21139128.

[7] Masters RC, Liese AD, Haffner SM, Wagenknecht LE, Hanley AJ. Whole and refined grain intakes are related to inflammatory protein concentrations in human plasma. Journal of Nutrition (J Nutr). 2010 Mar;140(3):587-94. doi: 10.3945/jn.109.116640. Epub 2010 Jan 20. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/140/3/587.full

[8] MayoClinic.com; Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Gout Diet; March 2010. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gout-diet/MY01137

[9] Kidney stones in adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/stonesadults/index.htm. Accessed Apr. 18, 2013.

[10] Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, 2010. New FDA Numbers Reveal Food Animals Consume Lion’s Share of Antibiotics. December 23, 2010.  http://www.livablefutureblog.com/2010/12/new-fda-numbers-reveal-food-animals-consume-lion%E2%80%99s-share-of-antibiotics/ Accessed Apr. 19, 2013

[11] Thorogood M, Mann J, Appleby P, McPherson K. Risk of death from cancer and ischaemic heart disease in meat and non-meat eaters. Br Med J. 1994;308:1667-1670.

[12] Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Eilber U. Mortality patterns of German vegetarians after 11 years of follow-up. Epidemiology. 1992;3:395-401. 

[13] Malter M, Schriever G, Eilber U. Natural killer cells, vitamins, and other blood components of vegetarian and omnivorous men. Nutr Cancer. 1989;12(3):271-8. PubMed PMID: 2771803.

[14]  Link, Lilli; Potter, J. (2004). "Raw versus cooked vegetables and cancer risk". Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 13 (9): 1422–1435. PMID 15342442.

[15] Yu H, Rohan T. 2000. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Role of the Insulin-Like Growth Factor Family in Cancer Development and Progression. 92 (18): 1472-1489.

[16] Hansen M, Halloran, JM, Groth E III, and Lefferts L. (1997) Potential Public Health Impacts of the Use of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin in Dairy Production. (Prepared for a Scientific Review by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives). Consumers Union. 

[17] Rosell M, Appleby P, Spencer E, Key T. Weight gain over 5 years in 21 966 meat-eating, fish-eating, vegetarian, and vegan mean and women in EPIC-Oxford. International Journal of Obesity 2006;30:1389-96

[18] Phillips F, Hackett AF, Stratton G, and Billington D .Effect of changing to a self-selected vegetarian diet on anthropometric measurements in UK adults. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 2004; 17(3):249-55.

[19] Rosell M, Appleby P, Spencer E, and Key T. Weight gain over 5 years in 21 966 meat-eating, fish-eating, vegetarian, and vegan men and women in EPIC-Oxford. International Journal of Obesity. 2006; 30(9):1389-96.

[20] Matsuzaki T, Sasaki K, Hata J, Hirakawa Y, Fujimi K, Ninomiya T, Suzuki SO, Kanba S, Kiyohara Y, Iwaki T. Association of Alzheimer disease pathology with abnormal lipid metabolism: the Hisayama Study. Neurology. 2011 Sep 13;77(11):1068-75. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31822e145d. PubMed PMID: 21911734.

[21] Antoneta Granic, Huntington Potter. Mitotic Spindle Defects and Chromosome Mis-Segregation Induced by LDL/Cholesterol—Implications for Niemann-Pick C1, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Atherosclerosis. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (4): e60718 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0060718

[22] Giem P, Beeson WL, Fraser GE. The incidence of dementia and intake of animal products: preliminary findings from the Adventist Health Study. Neuroepidemiology. 1993;12(1):28-36. PubMed PMID: 8327020.

[23] Gussow JD. Ecology and vegetarian considerations: does environmental responsibility demand the elimination of livestock?. Am J Clin Nutr; 59(suppl): 1110S-6S. 0.

[24] Fiala, N. (2009) How meat contributes to global warming: Producing beef for the table has a surprising environmental cost: it releases prodigious amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Scientific American Magazine, February.

[25] Fao (Food and agriculture organization). 2011. FaoStat, http://faostat.fao.org/default.aspx.

[26] Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.  Rome, Italy Food and Agricultural Organization United Nations2007

[27] Gussow JD. Ecology and vegetarian considerations: does environmental responsibility demand the elimination of livestock?. Am J Clin Nutr; 59(suppl): 1110S-6S. 0.

[28] Agriculture, food and water. The world water development report (2003) Natural Resources Management and Environment Department, The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/Y4683E/y4683e07.htm

[29] Brown  LR Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. 3rd ed. New York, NY WW Norton 2008.

[30] Popkin BM. Will China's nutrition transition overwhelm its health care system and slow economic growth? Health Aff (Millwood). 2008 Jul-Aug;27(4):1064-76. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.27.4.1064. Erratum in: Health Aff (Millwood). 2008 Sep-Oct;27(5):1485. PubMed PMID: 18607042; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2447919.

[31] Lean, Geoffrey, ed. Our Planet special edition: Agriculture and Economic Development. 2007, UNEP: 3-32.: www.unep.org.

[32] USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, “Livestock Slaughter 2010 Summary”, April 2011,
http://usda01.library.cornell.edu/usda/nass/LiveSlauSu//2010s/2011/LiveSlauSu-04-25-2011.pdf

[33] Lynne U. Sneddon and Michael J. Gentle. (1998) Pain in Farm Animals. Roslin Institute, Workshop Series, Animal Welfare, Sustainable Animal Production. http://agriculture.de/acms1/conf6/ws5apain.htm?&xdocopen=0&xdoc=0,0,0,0,0,0,0#XDOC_01

[34] Rachel Mathews (2012) HUMANEWASHED: USDA Process Verified Program Misleads Consumers About Animal Welfare Marketing Claims, Animal Welfare Institute. http://awionline.org/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/fa-humanewashedreportonusdapvp.pdf

[35] Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype, Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source, http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/

[36] What are the best foods for healthy skin? Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/healthy-skin/AN01863

[37] Barnard ND, Nicholson A, Howard JL. The medical costs attributable to meat consumption. Prev Med. 1995 Nov;24(6):646-55. Review. PubMed PMID: 8610089. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8610089

[38] Gale, C. R., Deary, I. J., Batty, G. D., & Schoon, I. (2007). IQ in childhood and vegetarianism in adulthood: 1970 British cohort study. BMJ, 334(7587), 245-248B, doi: 10.1136/bmj.39030.675069.55

[39] World Health Organization (2010) General information related to microbiological risks in food. Food safety. http://www.who.int/foodsafety/micro/general/en/

[40] Marlow HJ, Hayes WK, Soret S, Carter RL, Schwab ER, Sabaté J. Diet and the
environment: does what you eat matter? Am J Clin Nutr. 2009
May;89(5):1699S-1703S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736Z. Epub 2009 Apr 1. PubMed
PMID: 19339399. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19339399

[41] Reijnders, L., and S. Soret, 2003: Quantification of the environmental impact of different dietary
protein choices. Amer. J. Clin. Nutr., 78 (Suppl.), 664S–668S
http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/664S.full

[42] Scarborough, Peter, Appleby, Paul N., Mizdrak, Anja, Briggs, Adam D.M., Travis, Ruth C., Bradbury, Kathryn E., Key, Timothy J. 2014, Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK, Journal of Climatic Change, 10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1, Springer Netherlands.


Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Systems Thinking usage survey 2013 results

Background 

In August 2010 Ilia Bider posted the following question on LinkedIn; “If System Thinking is such a good method (especially for solving poorly defined problems), why it is not that widespread?”

Similar questions have been raised several times in the Systems Thinking World group on LinkedIn.

In an attempt to move from talking in circles on this topic I developed a survey to get some data that could be used to analyse why Systems Thinking (ST) is not more widespread.

Summary of results

The table below shows the most common answers to the questions of why respondents were not learning more about ST and why they were not using ST more than they already were. These reasons can be seen as key obstacles to the wider adoption of ST. The sample size was 86.

GroupObstacles in learning about STObstacles to the use of ST
Non-experts
  • Don't have time.
  • Poor quality of learning material.
  • ST has no process or framework so it becomes too abstract and philosophical.
  • Difficult to understand.
  • Not convinced it is (more) effective.
  • The mainstream is overly focused on short term goals. 
  • Don’t know enough about ST. 
  • Difficult to apply on real world problems. 
  • ST does not match how things are being done in the organization.
  • Task focus in organizations. No incentives or rewards for using ST. 
  • People do not understand or see the value of ST presentations.
  • System thinkers do not want to impose their style of thinking on others.
  • ST is too vague. There are no fixed criteria you can use to tell if you are using it or not. 
  • Managers are not interested in what the ST analysis show. 
  • ST is abstract and ill-defined.
Experts
  • ST is not perceived by peers as professional. 
  • There is no ST diploma or skill level to brag about.
  • Theoretical disagreements and change.
  • The mainstream is overly focused on short term goals. 
  • Managers are not interested in what the ST analysis show.
  • System thinkers do not want to impose their style of thinking on others. 
  • Hard to introduce ST because of the dominant linear way of thinking. 
  • ST does not match how things are being done in the organization. 
  • Difficult to communicate.

The summary above is based on the most frequent answers (>10% of responders marked the same checkbox question) and issues that could be identified by grouping similar free text responses.

Survey method

The survey was carried out during February of 2013. We invited participants by using social media and by sending a broadcast e-mail to all members of the Systems Thinking World LinkedIn group. We encouraged only people who had been introduced to ST to participate.

At the time of writing 89 responses had been registered. The survey can still be viewed at the following locations:
Survey formhttp://bit.ly/XPdc6f
Automated visual summary http://bit.ly/YljT27
Raw data spread sheet of all responses http://bit.ly/Zk4XBE

In the survey we asked questions such as why they did not use ST more often and why they did not learn more about it. The survey did not cover the opposite aspects of why people were using it and why they wanted to learn about it. Our focus was on the obstacles and barriers to the wider adoption of ST.

There are also topics that could be included but I did not think about during the design. One such topic is the fear of carreer suicide and the undermining of power-holders.

There were both multiple choice answers and free text fields for respondents to fill out. Google forms were used as the survey engine.

Issues with the survey design 

The survey did not define ST or what was meant with using ST. This may have led to different interpretations of questions such as “Why do you not use it more often?”

The definitions of what ST is and what it means to use ST are still heavily debated. It seems that some think of “using ST” as simply having a certain mind-set. Others see it more as using a diverse set of modes of thought and different systems related disciplines for analysis and synthesis, while others tend to see ST more along the lines of a methodology to be used in inquiry and problem solving. These different interpretations of ST have surely influenced what respondents answered on the question “How often do you use Systems Thinking?”

The use of a Google form as a survey does not exactly meet the highest scientific standards but it was an easy way to get relatively good data.

Grouping of results

We have divided all respondents (n=86) into two groups. We call these the “experts” and the “non-experts”. The reason for this separation is that the results from these two groups are quite different and it makes sense to divide into these two groups for later analysis. If we are to answer the question of why ST is not more widely adopted it is more interesting to look at answers from non-experts. The non-experts are those who adopt ST. The experts are instrumental in the adoption.

GroupRespondentsDescription
Experts 46 Respondents who say they contribute to the field…provide training etc
   AND
Respondents who say they have been following Systems Thinking and related topics for years...
Non-experts40 All respondents – Experts.
People who have no prior knowledge of ST have not been invited and included in the survey results.
Deleted 3 Empty or invalid response data
Total 89
¨


Survey results details 

Age profile of respondents



Stated frequency of the use of Systems Thinking














Experts in response to “Why do you not use it more often?”

The mainstream is overly focused on short term goals, bottom line and quick wins. 9 18.4%
Managers don’t care what my ST shows anyway. They only hear what they want to hear 5 10.9%
I do not want to impose my style of thinking on others. 5 10.9%
ST does not match how things are being done in my organization 4 8.7%
ST is not comprehensive/complete. I can only use it for parts of the inquiry 3 6.5%
People do not understand or see the value of my ST presentations 3 6.5%
I feel I don’t know enough about ST 2 4.3%
You can’t measure its effect. 2 4.3%
I am rewarded for doing specialized tasks. Not for predicting the future and pointing out how things may be connected. 2 4.3%
I am afraid that people will think I am crazy when I show them my lengthy ST analysis. 2 4.3%
ST is too vague. There are no fixed criteria you can use to tell if you are using it or not. 2 4.3%
I do not want to be looked on as the besserwisser. 2 4.3%
I don’t want to think all day long. ST requires too much thinking. 1 2.2%
I am not convinced it provides added value for the problems I am working on. 1 2.2%
ST requires a suspension of self-interest. I am not able to push my interests. 1 2.2%
I don’t want to think all day long. ST requires too much thinking. 1 2.2%
I am just too impatient 0 0%
I find it difficult to apply on real world problems 0 0%

32 (70%) of experts say they are using ST as much as they can when they come across situations that warrants its use.

Free text answers from experts on “Why do you not use it more often?” 

Hard to introduce ST because of the dominant linear way of thinking 

“…the evaluation community is a tightly knit community that is immersed in the reductive, linear paragdigm – even if you were once part of that community – just talking about ST pushes you out into the periphery to a position of less power and legitimacy, even if you previously had more legitimacy with less professional experience.” 
“I use it often. But I can say why people surrounding me don’t use it often. They think it’s abstract. It’s not solving problems the way they would like, because they are stuck with the linear model and can’t see the big picture. Not only they can’t see it, they don’t want to see it. Their daily life is based on linear assumptions, and the status quo is what they look for. They are wealthy Swiss people, and are not interested in changing anything around them. It’s understandable. Short term future is all what our brain seems to be programmed for. It needs effort to look further away. ST needs some effort before really grasping its concepts. People are too busy maintaining their achievements – both material and spiritual – to decide to look further away.” 
“Audience thinks context is irrelevant and are confident in their assumptions, if they even know what they are.” 
“Until the ‘T’ in ST is expanded to mean modes of thought other than the use Aristotelian logic and Cartesian assumption about the nature of the mind we will make no progress...”

Difficult to communicate 

“Other people don’t understand it easily and it can be hard to collaborate.”
“I use it regularly for my own work and personal life. However, I have trouble explaining it to others.”
“If others understood ST better, it would be easier to use more frequently.”
“Also, I find that the language of ST is often exclusionary. For our workshops, we've had to make the language of ST more relate-able to our audiences who come from all walks of life and have varying levels of education.” 

Not seen as important or significant

“Currently it is not a priority at my place of work.” 
“Others discount its value, saying everything is connected to everything else, so what?“ 

Time consuming 

“It is time consuming to use well. Others are impatient with process analysis.“
“Boundary issues are difficult to define.”

Experts in response to “Why are you not learning more about Systems Thinking?”

ST is not perceived by my peers as professional 7 15.2%
It is difficult to learn about ST. Poor quality or ambiguous learning material/courses. 4 8.7%
There is no ST diploma or skill level I can brag about. 4 8.7%
I don't have time. 3 6.5%
I am not convinced it is more effective than other ways of doing inquiry. 1 2.2%
I don't feel welcome in the ST community. 1 2.2%
ST has no process or framework so it becomes too abstract and philosophical for my taste. 1 2.2%
I don't care about systems. I already have enough things to think about. 1 2.2%
I am not convinced it is more effective 1 2.2%
I find ST difficult to understand. 0 0%
I don't like the ST community. 0 0%
ST is not sexy, cool or trendy. (Appealing) 0 0%
ST is boring. 0 0%
I have little or no use for it. 0 0%

23 (50%) of experts say they are in the process of learning more about ST.

Free text answers from experts on “Why are you not learning more about Systems Thinking?” 

Theoretical disagreements and change 

“Gets a bit atomistic with people proselytising their favourite words and models and flogging old horses with new names, loosing its pluralistic origins. On the other hand I am learning and advancing the thinking everyday, but it's not the be all and end all.”
“I had to create my own interdisciplinary PhD program (2001 to 2005) to learn about ST as part of a health policy and evaluation PhD. Luckily, I had access to some stars in the field - but even they argued with each other a lot, especially about how to use ST and complex systems theory in evaluation. That is continuing to be a big debate!” 

No community 

“Before STW, there wasn't enough group support to motivate continued learned, even from my worldwide network of ST colleagues (who tend to be mere critics and non-joiners)” 

No best practices for teaching ST 

“As a teacher, I find that really good introductory books for non-technical graduate students are rare and many consultants' books tend to be too expensive for use in only 1-2 class sessions within a course. Guidance how to teach ST to others has been difficult to locate. The ST community seems to be insular and focused on talking to each other and the ST past.”

Not seen as important or significant by managers

“...no perceived value by the public. This leads mgmt to put roadblocks in the way and substitute bureaucracy like cmmi, agile, and just plan erroneous but popular approaches.“ 

Too academic 

“I would like to say that I think ST has been marketed as a tool for academia, business management and maybe management of governmental agencies. I have done a lot of searching online and there are very few people (online at least) who are trying to give ST tools to non-academic, non-managerial people. I think this is a huge loss and keeps ST stuck in an ivory tower when it should be down on the ground helping with the daily chores. Linda Booth Sweeney is doing an incredible job, teaching children systems thinking...“

Experts in response to “How often do you use Systems Thinking?”

Daily 38 82.6%
Once a week 6 13.0%
Once a month 0 0%
Rarely or never 0 0%
No answer 1 2.2%


Non-experts in response to “Why do you not use it more often?”

The mainstream is overly focused on short term goals, bottom line and quick wins. 16 40.0%
I feel I don't know enough about ST 15 37.5%
I find it difficult to apply on real world problems. 11 27.5%
I am rewarded for doing specialized tasks. Not for predicting the future and pointing out how things may be connected. 9 22.5%
ST does not match how things are being done in my organization. 8 20.0%
People do not understand or see the value of my ST presentations. 6 15.0%
I do not want to impose my style of thinking on others. 5 12.5%
ST is too vague. There are no fixed criteria you can use to tell if you are using it or not. 5 12.5%
Managers don't care what my ST shows anyway. They only hear what they want to hear. 4 10.0%
I am not convinced it provides added value for the problems I am working on. 2 5.0%
I do not want to be looked on as the besserwisser. 2 5.0%
ST is not comprehensive/complete. I can only use it for parts of the inquiry. 2 5.0%
I don't want to think all day long. ST requires too much thinking. 2 5.0%
I am just too impatient. 2 5.0%
I am afraid that people will think I am crazy when I show them my lengthy ST analysis. 2 5.0%
I am just too impatient 1 2.5%
You can't measure its effect. 1 2.5%
ST requires a suspension of self-interest. I am not able to push my interests. 1 2.5%

30.0% (12/40) of non-experts say they are using ST as much as they can when they come across situations that warrants its use.

Free text answers from non-experts on “Why do you not use it more often?” 

Abstract, vague and ill-defined 

“I find my peers surprisingly uninterested, i also find that, similar to sustainability, people have different interpretations and understandings of systems thinking…”
“The main reason is that few people are able to grasp it and fewer willing to apply their minds to it.” 
“I remain to be convinced of the value and credibility of the approach” 
“Seen as too complex.” 

Requires buy-in 

“Requires a lot of trust that other people/parts of the Organization will buy-in to the approach over the medium to long term.”
“Lack of local movement that would give more reason for business to use ST.” 

Non-experts in response to “Why are you not learning more about Systems Thinking?”

I don't have time 9 22.5%
It is difficult to learn about ST. Poor quality 8 20.0%
I find ST difficult to understand 8 20.0%
ST has no process or framework so it becomes too abstract… 6 15.0%
I am not convinced it is more effective than other ways of doing inquiry. 5 12.5%
There is no ST diploma or skill level I can brag about 2 5.0%
I have little or no use for it. 1 2.5%
ST is not perceived by my peers as professional 1 2.5%
ST is not sexy, cool or trendy. (Appealing) 1 2.5%
I don't like the ST community. 0 0%
ST is boring. 0 0%
I don't feel welcome in the ST community. 0 0%
I don't care about systems. I already have enough things to think about. 0 0%

57.5% (23/40) of non-experts say they are in the process of learning more about ST.

Free text answers from non-experts on “Why are you not learning more about Systems Thinking?”

Difficult to use 

“It is difficult to start modeling and applying ST to own problem domain even I have read books and articles with clear and good examples.”
“Being reminded, or told, how ST could help with particular things I am working on. The provision of a resource that promised to be intellectually exciting and practically helpful might be a prompt. That would be something that explained the principles (and pointed to other sources where they already exist) but then had lots of examples of how you could use it practically in your day to day role as a manager, consultant or whatever.”
“I haven't seen practical examples of it being used successfully in everyday business affairs and am not sure what techniques to use when.” 

Not seen as important or significant 

“…It is not that there are reasons not to (boring, not sexy etc.). It is more a question of if and when it rises high up enough the priority, or 'to do', list to actually get done. That's not quite the same as 'don't have time' - there is time, but there are many competing pressures for it.“ 

No authority on the common place to start learning 

“I don't know how to start, what path to follow. How to pick materials to learn from.” 
“I haven't found a way to actually learn ST. What I started to read wasn't appealing enough to dig into it all”.

No community 

“I think doing ST together with others (best: interdisciplinary) is a bigger learning experience than trying to figure things out alone. Finding others who are nearby, open and interested to do this together needs some time and luck :)” 

Non-experts in response to “How often do you use Systems Thinking?”

Rarely or never 12 30.0%
Once a month 11 27.5%
Once a week 10 25.0%
Daily 6 15.0%


Afterword

With this I hope the survey has given the ST community valuable data for further analysis.

I hereby encourage you to use the data to come up with solutions to how we can make ST more widespread, as I strongly believe that an appreciation for Systems Thinking among the population would make the world a better place.