Lean System Management -- Can Structured Systems Unify and Align Quality Practices Throughout an Organization?

It has been argued that that the proven practices of performance excellence and quality cannot be sustained over the long term. A new book by Richard E. Mallory entitled Lean System Management for Leaders: A New Performance Management Toolset postulates that the reason for this failure is that there is no cohesive guidance on the management of groups of people working together toward specific goals. The author believes we currently have only a patchwork of two very specific knowledge areas -- one for process management and one for project management. I asked Richard a series of questions about how his book seeks to rectify this situation. I'm including those along with Richard's very interesting answers here:

Why do you believe that system management is new to management?
System management shows how to create and define a best practice ‘map’ for any or all management systems, and how to identify and define its influencing factors of success.  This allows manager to create an operational best practice map with measurable metrics and indicators of success.  Once that is done, the model itself provides a foundation of a perfect ‘learning organization’ that can review and improve on its practices over each performance cycle.  There is nothing in existing management practice that shows how to provide this kind of structure, evaluation, and learning for the management structure overall. 

Why do you call it a “fundamental” body of knowledge for all managers?
Much of current management literature is focused only on one-to-one interactions with individuals--“supervision“-- or generic group practices like “motivation”, “goal-setting”, “employee engagement”, or “encouraging the heart.”   Another approach puts its focus on generic organizational frameworks that provide a cookbook of advisory or prescriptive tactics under headings like “Baldrige”, “ISO”, or “The House of Lean."   It is a great omission of current management knowledge that there is firm structure for defining, analyzing, standardizing, or implementing best practices for the specific practice areas of individual managers – either for a program office or for specific management functions like governance, strategic planning, budgeting, quality control, and project management.

Isn’t systems management mentioned in a lot of management books?
Yes, many books use the plural word ‘systems’ with the same meaning as an organizational environment.  One business book says that “systems thinking is more of a concept than a tool,” and describes the system as ALL the factors that surround a process.  Another calls systems “a set of inter-related processes.”  Either definition will blind managers to the possibility of documenting and improving a SINGLE area of management practice with specific goals – the real definition of a system.  When systems are looked at one at a time, it is possible to define and map their primary activities and success factors, and this kind of documentation of systems redefines management. 

What is the difference between a process and a system?
A business process uses a specific set of sequential steps, each of which can be defined, to produce a specific output with a definable set of output requirements.  A process is often completed by a designated work team, and is designed to be done the same way with the same sequential steps time after time.  A system is more easily seen as a project, in that it produces a valuable output but will have a production cycle that may not be rigidly sequential, that is more changeable because of intervening factors in each cycle, and that may produce a number of outputs all of which cannot be defined in advance.  A system is less likely to follow a single predictable path and may have to obtain its result using personnel that are not a designated work team. 

Given all those differences, what makes you think that a system can be mapped?
All human knowledge is based on science, which itself is based on observation of repetitive cycles and learning about the factors that drive success in any given cycle.  If you start with the premise that each management system is cyclical and has quantifiable goals, then we can define and predict the principal activity groups (or milestones) that are necessary to achieve those goals. We can also then define the measurable attributes of success in each group.  Using cause and effect analysis, we can further break down the influencing factors (or “causes”) of success, and the metrics or indicators that can be seen when those practices are followed.  Even though the operational best practices of system are not sequential with specific assignable steps, the system map does provide a documented operational plan that can be evaluated and improved.
Can you explain the concepts of “native systems” and “design systems” that you refer to in your book?
Often times groups of people develop a habit, understanding, or “culture” about the way things are done around here, and this is the native system.  Like standing in line at the grocery store, people make things work based on assumptions of what is considered fair or right.  The same is true in larger organizations, so the way that we operate a program office, develop a budget, or decide on projects is often a combination of guess work and detective work.  The idea of design system is a deliberate decision of a leadership structure that for critical management outputs, there should be a focused effort to define how it will work best, to let everyone know about that operational plan, to evaluate its operation at the end of each cycle, and to innovate and improve based on learning.  This mirrors the practices recommended by the Framework for performance excellence of the National Quality Award that management systems should have a documented approach and deployment combined with periodic learning and innovation. 

The book title mentions Lean.  Does that mean if follows established process improvement methodology?
System management shows leaders how to achieve superior leadership results by applying a Lean DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) structure to leadership systems and program office operations.  It shows leaders how to align and evaluate these systems using a Lean approach, and how to evaluate and score the maturity of management practices through the American Society for Quality System Management Standard (http://asq.org/gov).  It offers analytic skills to eliminate duplication and waste of executive and senior management time, and reduce the wait time and non-value add in dependent processes.

Explain how lean system management provides an agile framework for organizational change.
Lean system management presents a structured framework for defining and controlling organizations, along with a system maturity standard that allows regular measurement of the maturity and capability of defined management systems.  In this way it provides an agile framework for the organization-wide practice of quality (which we will refer to as “Performance Excellence”), and enables the use of a system maturity scorecard, showing the capability and maturity of quality management function throughout the organization.  It also allows and enables an organization-wide scorecard on the practice of quality at the process level, through use of the Process Management Standard (See Measuring Maturity, Quality Progress, Sept. 2016 --

What do you think of Richard's view of system management? Do you agree with his views on why performance excellence is currently not sustained by many organizations?