What is Socio-Technical Systems Theory?
Central to the concept of socio- technical theory is the idea that the ‘social’ and ‘technical’ facets of an organisational system are not looked at independently, but rather are viewed collectively as individual parts of one cohesive system. Socio-technical theory derives from the research of American psychologist Harold, J. Leavitt, who understood organisations as being made up of four interlinking principles; task, structure, technology and people (illustrated in the below image).
Image: University of Leeds Business School (2022) Socio-Technical Systems Theory. Available at: https://business.leeds.ac.uk/research-stc/doc/socio-technical-systems-theory (Accessed: 12 Jan 2023).
Manufacturing and Service operations are also socio-technical systems as they too have the interaction of People, Machines/Automation and Technology. In an Operational Excellence or Lean context, if you only focus on trying to improve one of these aspects, the change will invariably fail. If we take the technical aspect of the socio-technical system by way of example, any change to the software system would normally affect the people – it may affect the tasks they do in and around the system, and or affect how they use the software system. If all aspects are not considered, the change could potentially lead to an inefficiency in the machine or people aspect of the overall socio-technical system. When implementing change, the social aspect i.e., the people and their skills, and the technical aspect i.e., machines or automation and software systems need to be considered in tandem.
In the recent past, many companies had to try and come up with new ways of executing and monitoring aspects of their “Production System” e.g., how they conducted Tiered Meetings, how they conducted Shift Hand-overs, how they captured and monitored KPIs.
Even with new tools such as the Microsoft Power Platform and other No-Code / Low-Code platforms, where “non techies” can develop solutions rapidly, there can be a desire to get something up and running quickly and deployed rapidly. From a technical perspective, rapid development and deployment of solutions to aid the capture and visualisation of data, or to aid how you run your daily meetings, is all very achievable. There are also benefits to spinning up a POC quickly and then iterating to achieve your “Desired Future State”.
However, it is important to remember that making any changes to the “current state” will in all likelihood impact how someone does their job, the procedures they follow, how they use a manual or software system and how they interact with colleagues.
Have you implemented any changes recently that haven’t had the desired buy-in or benefits?
How can the potential benefits of technology be embraced without negatively affecting the participation, engagement, culture and personal accountability?
Benefits of a Socio-Technical Approach
In terms of Digitisation of existing processes, and supporting a hybrid working model, it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the functional aspects of the system. You can also come at the problem from the angle of trying to utilise new features or capabilities of the technology platform and trying to see how you can use them, without actually figuring out what it can solve. There may also be aspects of the process or system you are looking at, which could be automated completely, but when viewed through the socio-technical prism, a less than full digitisation may be the optimal solution. In a manufacturing environment, its safe to say that the value and benefits of teamwork, interaction and collaboration cannot be underestimated when it comes to innovation, developing and sustaining a culture of improvement.
By adopting a Socio-Technical Approach, you achieve the following benefits:
- Improved engagement
- A better understanding and analysis of the Current State
- A greater understanding of how the system may be improved and the Desired Future State
- A higher likelihood of the improvement project succeeding
We believe that by applying Critical Thinking to the “Requirements and Analysis” phase of the solution development and adopting a Socio-Technical approach, you have a better chance of arriving at the correct Desired Future State.
Ultimately, we want to achieve an optimisation where the People and Technology can co-exist in harmony and drive improvement.
If you would like to learn how Dataworks can help your organisation embrace technology while also ensuring your people are at the centre of your digital transformation projects please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
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