System Archetype 1: Balancing Process with Delay

System Dynamics & Systems Thinking
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Aniket Deolikar
Consultant, India

System Archetype 1: Balancing Process with Delay

Description of Balancing Process with Delay

One of the System Archetypes is "Balancing Process with Delay". It is perhaps the most basic type of archetype which we can observe almost everywhere. A major problem with delays ( = ) in systems is that they cause us to perceive a response to an action (a feedback) incorrectly or not at all (especially if the delay time is long). When a person or a group is working towards a goal and acts in response to delayed feedback, they tend to take more or less corrective measures than actually needed if the feedback would have been perceived properly.

Early Warning Symptoms of Balancing Process with Delay

An early warning for this archetype can be considered when you think you are in balance, but then you overshoot the mark. Later you may overshoot in the other direction as well. This is the time you must know that the system needs balancing with delay.

Structure of Balancing Process with Delay

Management Principle (What to do?)

If a system is sluggish and an aggressive approach is used, that produces instability. As a result, the long-term results will differ from the estimations. If we keep adjust the system even more frequently or to a greater degree, the instability of the system will only increase further. The solution to this is you have to be patient which means you either have to give some time for the corrective measure to take effect or make the system more responsive i.e., getting a more effective or faster feedback by making some changes to the system.

Business Example of Balancing Process with Delay

One clear example is the "The Beer Game" demonstrating the Bullwhip Effect in Supply Chains. The solution is to consult more frequently with the other parties or to ensure a better and faster exchange of information between all parties (and not just between adjacent parties).
Another example is real estate developers, who typically continue building new projects until the market has gone soft. But they don't realize that yet. By then there are already enough or too much additional properties under construction to compensate the demand. This results in a market where there are more sellers/supply than buyers/demand.
In general, Information Technology (computers and software) and Communication Technology (the internet) are nowadays playing the key role in decreasing problems with delays in systems.

Real Life Example of Balancing Process with Delay

One examples is a shower where the response of the water temperature is sluggish with respect to a change in faucet position.
Another example can be when we set the AC temperature lower to chill the air. This takes time as it is a sluggish system. So we lower the temperature setting even more, even if the AC in fact has a thermostat, thus taken an over corrective action as we neglect or underestimate the delay. The solution to this can be waiting for the temperature to cool down and relying on the thermostat before taking any corrective action. Or you can improve the response time and capacity of the AC by setting up a more powerful machine or add another one.

⇨ Feel free to add more management situations which you might have faced and what you did to tackle them...

Peter Senge, "The Fifth Discipline Appendix 2: Systems Archetypes", 1990.
William Braun, "The System Archetypes", February 2002


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