When you think you know what the problem is…

As part of the Lankelly Chase Systems Changers programme, I started to map an area in my organisation that I felt could be improved.

This involved an enormous roll of brown paper and a bunch of Sharpie markers and as I sat down to begin, I felt confident that I knew what I was doing. After all, it was obvious wasn’t it? I do my job day in, day out and I am confident that I know what I am doing.

My aim was to use a cause and effect diagram which would clearly show me where changes can be made. I was positive that it wasn’t going to show me anything new.

What I wasn’t prepared for is the reality that the one area I was focused on was not actually the most relevant one. The first diagram moved into a second diagram which moved into a third one as I drilled down and down. Every time I found a feedback loop, I spent time looking at that area — and this kept happening.

What I didn’t say earlier was that I was doing this whilst sitting in my motorhome (Lottie!) in the middle of nowhere in Ireland. I was on holiday but yet again I was doing ‘work stuff’. That’s the problem with working with marginalised groups; most of us can’t/won’t switch off. Always looking for ways to improve what we do with the sole purpose of supporting those in need.

My partner moans that me and my vast bits of paper are in the way — Lottie is not an American beast with all mod cons, she is ancient and small but I respond by saying that I have a deadline, that I have loads of homework and I need to get it done.

So, to get back to the point, I start my first diagram. It goes well and as I step back and admire my artistic art work, I notice a little feedback loop in the bottom left hand corner of the page and I am surprised. I look a little closer and decide to investigate further. Another big piece of paper appears and I select a different Sharpie colour — green this time.

I write down the main aspect of the loop and arrows go here, there and seemingly everywhere. Firing in all directions, some a cause, some an effect, some both; it ends up looking like a child’s nursery school picture and I can hardly work out what is going on. But I am fascinated. How can this be? How had I not noticed it before? What else is going on?

But wait. There is another of those infernal feedback thingys and I’m not sure if I am gutted or thrilled. I have clearly not got to the end.

Purple this time — green is my favourite colour but I’ve already used it and need a different colour so I can distinguish one spaghetti picture from another. So with purple in hand, I start again — I feel like the tasmanian devil, scribbling madly in anticipation. Where will this go? Even the realisation (pointed out by my partner) that the Sharpie ink has gone through the paper and marked the table doesn’t stop me. I simply can’t until I feel I have seen it through to the end.

And when it seems to have reached it’s natural conclusion, I sit back and look at it. I feel strangely elated as I have learned something new. This fires my passion and once I get back from leave, I intend to look at how these loops can be interrupted so that the service we deliver can be improved.

This is an astonishing tool and I am sure that many of you already know about it. But if not, I advise you to look on Google so that you too can find a way of making lasting changes in your workplace. Those we support need us to constantly evaluate our way of working to ensure that we are as effective as we possibly can be.

One thing I do suggest though is that you don’t do it whilst you are on leave and make sure you have enough space!