The direction of the LSS

Thank you for your recent questions to the board members about the direction of the LSS…questions that are very appropriate for this stage of the organization. Some of them have come from your interest in LSS activities. Others have come from recent posts on this website. As President of the LSS, I’d like to address both.


The question we hear the most is about on-going activity. First, I’ll talk about what’s working extremely well.

Last year’s conference, Reactor13 in Boulder Colorado, was one of the most experimental conferences I’ve ever seen. We were pushing hard to get the most interaction and learning possible. Some experiments worked very well. Others were more mixed. There were no “failures,” as all the experiments produced learning applicable to systems work in general and to making this year’s conference, Reactor14, the best it can be.

Even better, the attendees at Reactor13 did a spectacular job at identifying important areas where Lean and Systems Thinking have been under-applied and which we as a community are uniquely qualified to improve.

One example of this is the hole that Lean work has left to date in identifying and addressing the challenges of Middle Management in Lean implementation. Those who labor in this layer of organizations have been caught in a classic lose-lose scenario; great risk, with little or no potential personal reward. The Fellows and community members working at Reactor13 zeroed in on this subject and quickly built up a framework for future work on the subject. This is one of five such high-potential areas identified and begun at Reactor13. Everyone with whom I’ve spoken who were directly involved with these found the sessions both effective and energizing. The results of that progress are still available. The outlines of what needs to be done, alone, continue to be invaluable resources.

Now to the “not so well.” After we left Reactor13, within a short time we realized that we were confronting another classic problem of Non-Profits: How do you make consistent progress on projects in an all-volunteer organization? Especially an All-Star organization like the LSS, where the people involved are over-achievers who come to the table already loaded beyond 100% and needing to prioritize their time. This showed up as little progress made on the Reactor13 projects outside of the conference.

This was a bigger challenge than we had anticipated. The board and those with whom we’ve discussed this dynamic have been looking at ways to increase our progress on things that you, the community, have identified as high-payoff.

For one, we have been looking at how other organizations have handled similar challenges (e.g., INCOSE). We on the board are just like the rest of you in our community: Volunteers. And we have been putting in large amounts of our time into this challenge. We have identified some ideas for going forward. We’re acting on some of these now. At Reactor14 we will further engage with those who are most interested in increasing our overall effectiveness. It won’t be fully effective overnight…but we are motivated to improve in this area as quickly as possible.

Finally, we are about to kick off a total re-vamp of our LSS website: look, feel, and functionality. It will befit the quality and forward-sightedness of the LSS. Very soon I will announce a sponsorship program to fund this work.

Ryan Martens, head of Rally and one of our Fellows, told us to expect it to take five years to get everything worked out and mature as an organization. We’re on target for that, and perhaps even a little ahead. So we are plowing ahead. We are in this for the long haul. In the next days and weeks I’ll be sharing some ways you can be part of improving the needs areas. The board is here to help facilitate that, while the work of advancing the knowledge and wisdom of systems work belongs to all of us together, the community of the LSS.


Regarding your questions about recent posts on this website, one of our goals has been to elicit your feedback. All of us on the board greatly appreciate hearing it. As some have pointed out, only if the community and Fellows are actively involved in the mission of the LSS is the LSS Fellowship anything more than a “Who’s Who” list (which none of us are interested in). We all have lives outside the LSS. This as a labor of love to achieve worthwhile benefits to the world around us. To push forward what can be done with the systems in our many fields.

In the LSS we do that, of course, by building new insights from interacting with each other. What the LSS has set out to do is unique among all the organizations I have ever seen. It is what drew me into co-founding its predecessor in 2009. This purpose is at the core of my own convictions and philosophy about systems work. I thought then, and think even more strongly now, that what we are doing is essential to the world. Without there being a non-commercial, impartial group like the LSS, the kind of progress in systems work we seek is unlikely to happen any time soon. Many problems that could be solved quickly would persist. As far as I’ve seen, nobody else is creating mechanisms to put this reach across many types of systems into action. We need every member of the LSS community and Fellowship on deck, as the world’s problems only grow larger, more complex, and more impactful as time goes on.


Most organizations are based on selecting some promising approach–say, Agile techniques, or Lean (meaning, usually, variants on the Toyota Production System), Systems Thinking, Functional Programming, or whatever–and then finding ways to apply, improve, and promote it.

The purpose of the Lean Systems Society transcends any one approach, no matter how promising a particular area currently seems. We are about bringing together people from different systems domains and capabilities sets (ultimately, as different as possible) to talk with each other about how to solve real problems from their various missions. Thus, we are uniquely positioned to be the “hub” that draws together all these other organizations and missions, and enables each to disseminate their advances while benefitting from the advances of others very different from themselves.

The people the LSS brings together come from varying domains and capabilities areas (continually being added). Each domain (IT, software development, healthcare, education, and so on) has its own perception “box.” Each capability set (Complexity Theory, Lean, ToC, Systems Engineering, TRIZ, etc.) also has a box of its own.

The “box” for each domain or each capability set has walls different places than the walls of other boxes. So when people with varying backgrounds talk, what looks like a stalemate from within one box may look like a solved problem within the walls of another. We’ve already seen this dynamic when we brought in Dave Snowden’s approach to Complexity back in 2010. It blew the walls off the historic “Lean” box and opened up many new avenues that are still being expanded upon today.

This kind of cross-domain, cross-capability fertilization is the essence of what makes the LSS unique. And complementing these two axes, we are reaching out more and more to differing kinds of organizations to help them talk to each other. So we are breaking through organizational boxes and walls as well.

If that ideal resonates with you, then I hope you will help us all take it to the next step together. For a step at a time is the most we can reasonably expect when we’re walking through such unfamiliar territory. I have every confidence that the minds, hearts, and strong wills I know in this community will, over many such steps, find the right path to the major improvements we all want to see in systems…those in our own familiar domains, and those in the many other domains and need areas of the larger world around us. Again, we will be posting more opportunities for doing this, shortly.

One way you can benefit from all this personally, as well as help move systems work forward in general, is by joining us at Reactor14. While we as an organization are still relatively young in optimizing our progress on our mission between conferences, the Reactor format has already proven itself both for the growth of individuals and of systems work in general. (Those of you who heard the Lean Education and Lean Non-Profit talks at Reactor13 know just how paradigm-expanding such exposure can be.)

I hope to see you there!

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