July 17, 2006

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Homeostatis & Process Improvement

Those of you who like to learn a new word every day might like to learn this one - homeostasis.

Homeostasis is the tendency of complex open systems to go back to a state of equilibrium after they are disrupted or perturbed. A good example would be the tendency of a fit person's heart rate to fall back to a "resting" level after vigorous exercise.

The benefits of homeostatis - the return to a kind of equilibrium - are obvious. Life might not be possible without it.

But it has some obvious drawbacks, too - especially if, like me, you are interested in organisational learning and change. Let's say that our improvement goal is a higher heart rate -so we can deliver more oxygen (because more is always good, wouldn't you agree?) We might conclude that the way to achieve this improvement is to go for a jog. And, while we're jogging, our heart rate does indeed go up significantly. Job done!

But when we stop jogging, homeostatis kicks in. As the demand for oxygen decreases, our body regulates itself and our heart rate starts to drop until it eventually goes back to its usual resting rate.

Process improvement programs have similar tendencies. For a while it looks like our efforts are really paying off, but when the program is over, the consultants have left (and, one hopes, their invoices have all been paid) and we have to get on with business as usual, things have a tendency to slip back to the way they were before.

What determines our resting heart rate is not how fast we jog to try and make it go up. It is our underlying fitness - the very fabric or our physical being, if you like. In such open and complex systems, it is the underlying mechanisms - the properties of the components, and especially the interactions between them, that tend to determine the final form.

Posted 15 years, 1 month ago on July 17, 2006