Glossary of key concepts for mess and reliability management

Anticipations (see pattern recognition)

Contingency scenarios (see scenario formulation)

Coupling-decoupling-recoupling dynamic: process whereby tightly coupled system variables must be decoupled from each other in order to be managed, program by program or agency by agency. Administrative decoupling, however, ends up highlighting how connected the issues are and how important it is to deal with them in a linked way. Where initial coupling generated pressure to decouple, decoupling reinforces pressure to recouple—the dynamic’s third element. A positive feature of decoupling is to render more transparent what can and needs to be recoupled operationally. How operational recoupling (real-time mess and reliability management) occurs is case-by-case, since the dynamics of coupling, decoupling and recoupling are site-specific.

Critical infrastructures: assets or systems deemed essential by government for the provision of vital societal services, including but are not limited to engineered supplies for water, electricity, transportation and financial services.

Decoupling (see coupling-decoupling-recoupling dynamic)

Domain of competence: unique knowledge that mess and reliability professionals and their networks have to manage a critical service reliably. It is bounded by skills of networked professionals in terms of their abilities to recognize systemwide patterns and practices and to formulate contingency scenarios based on local application of broader principles and precepts.

Equifinality: behavior of a system to produce an end state through differing means.

***Maximum equifinality: ability to maintain equifinality in reserve, just in case the system needs to use it later. This is typical of just-in-case behavior under conditions of high network options and low system volatility.

***Adaptive equifinality: ability to assemble different options just in time to achieve reliability of service. Liquidity in finance economics is adaptive equifinality, when liquidity represents the ability of a seller to assemble a deal even in distressed times (as in assembling resources at the last moment).

***Zero equifinality: lack of equifinality, as in only one (set of) means to produce the end state of reliable service provision. This is typical of command and control behavior in just-this-way performance under conditions of low network options and enforced low system volatility.

Just-for-now performance: activities undertaken by mess and reliability professionals when system volatility remains high but network options with which to respond are few. This performance is unstable and not to be prolonged, since fire-fighting, band aids, and quick fixes mean operators end up doing one thing to achieve and maintain reliability, just for now, that can make other factors worse off.

Just-in-case performance: activities undertaken by mess and reliability professionals when system volatility is low and when network options to respond to the volatility are many and varied. This performance is characterized by multiple resources (including strategies) held in store, just in case they are needed to achieve and maintain reliability if something bad happens. (See also maximum equifinality.)

Just-in-time performance: activities undertaken by mess and reliability professionals when system volatility is high and network options to respond to that volatility remain many and varied. This performance is characterized by operator flexibility in assembling different options up to the last moment to achieve and maintain reliability, just in time. (See adaptive equifinality.)

Just-this-way performance: activities undertaken by mess and reliability professionals to ensure system volatility is low when network options to respond are few. This performance is characterized by command and control, such as emergency declarations. Such interventions are to be complied with, just this way, to reduce task environment volatility so that reliability can be achieved and maintained with the few resources available. (See also zero equifinality.)

Macro-design: position in mess and reliability space from which formal deductive principles are applied at the system level to govern the achievement and maintenance of processes for critical service provision. (See mess and reliability space.)

Mess (as in policy mess): informally, any controversy or issue which is uncertain, complex, incomplete and disputed at the same time. Formally, any controversy or issue, the multiple and conflicting standpoints over which can be sorted out around four nodes of macro-design, micro-operations, scenario formulation and pattern recognition.

            Bad mess:  informally, a mess that cannot be used. Formally, a mess centered around:  few if any systemwide patterns or localized scenarios; single standpoints taken in mess and reliability space or confusion over nodes in the space; and/or leaps of faith across nodes that bypass unique knowledge base of mess and reliability professionals or are uninformed by learning there. In terms of the performance modes, a bad mess is what we see in just-for-now performance.

            Good mess: informally, a mess that can be used. Formally, making a mess better or stopping a mess from going bad (just-in-time) or a bad mess from worsening (just-this-way).  The preceding means protecting mess and reliability professionals, becoming one yourself, favoring networked-centered over problem-centered decisionmaking, and learning how to undertake better management of organizational setbacks.

            Best mess: Formally, being unable to operate within and across all performance modes and well inside the domain of competence of known patterns and scenarios.

            Worst mess: Formally, having to operate outside the performance modes and the domain of competence. If prolonged, just-for-now performance can become the worst mess possible.

Mess and reliability management: operations and activities undertaken by professionals in networks skilled in pattern recognition and scenario formulation and their translation into reliable critical service provision. In their domain of competence, professionals manage by working together so as to recouple activities across separate programs or agencies. In doing so, professionals are required to move across performance modes as task environment and resource conditions change in order to achieve and maintain the reliability of a critical service.

Mess and reliability professionals: Operators or managers, working in a network with others, who are skilled in (1) recognizing patterns (including practices) emerging across a systemwide run of cases, (2) formulating contingency scenarios based on design principles but localized to case at hand; and (3) translating the systemwide patterns recognized and the localized scenarios formulated into the reliable provision of a critical service.

Mess and reliability space: cognitive field in which reliability in critical service provision is known and across which it is realized. It has two dimensions:  (1) the type of knowledge brought to bear on efforts to make the service reliable, and (2) the scope (or scale) of attention of the reliability efforts.

The knowledge from which reliable performance is pursued can range from formal or representational knowledge, in which key efforts are understood through abstract principles and deductive models based upon the principles, to experience, based on informal, tacit understanding. Scope of attention ranges from a purview which embraces reliability as an entire system output, encompassing many variables and elements, to a case-by-case focus in which each case is viewed as a particular event with distinct properties or features.

The two continua of knowledge and scope bound a cognitive space in which four nodes (hubs) are identified for achieving reliability: macro-design (principles at the system level), scenario formulation (contingency scenarios at the case level based on the localized modification of macro-principles); pattern recognition (including systemwide anticipations and practices emerging from the identified patterns of behavior and experience); and micro-operations (reactive behavior or experience at the case level).

Micro-operations, reactive: the position in mess and reliability space from which individual operators and managers with tacit knowledge and experience achieve and maintain reliability of a critical service, albeit reactively.

Network-centered decisionmaking: process where a sense of urgency drives professionals to intervene in an issue over which exists little prior agreement. Decisionmaking focuses on ensuring agreement on the rules to be followed in dealing with the issue by networked professionals, recognizing that goals will be defined along the way through negotiation over what is relevant knowledge and practices to deal with the issue as it evolves. Options are kept open and further rounds of negotiations might be needed, with new opportunities as network’s understanding of issue changes.

Options variety: amount of different resources that networked professionals have with which to respond to the system volatility they faces. Resources could be monetary, personnel and/or strategies with which the managers respond.

Pattern recognition, systemwide: position in mess and reliability space from which trends, configurations and generalizations emerge across a run of cases and which network professionals use as basis for anticipations and better practices (where evident) to achieve and maintain reliable critical service provision.

Performance modes: See just-in-case, just-in-time, just-for-now and just-this-way performance.

Problem-centered decisionmaking: process of defining the problem, the goals to be achieved in solving it, and the evidence that exists for use in the solution, where a decision follows from the prior problem statement, goals of analysis, and information assembled for its solution. Once decision has been locked in, its effectiveness is measured by how well implementation of the decision meets the predefined goals.

Professional challenges: are fourfold for mess and reliability professional—manage complexity; build analytic and management capacity into the network of professionals; capitalize on diverse communities and stakeholders when managing; and operate in real time more effectively.

Realism 1, 2 and 3: Realism 1 is that of you as the observing subject looking out onto reality. Realism 2 is when become the object of reality, in what psychologists call “the grip of the real.” Realism 3 is the situational awareness that comes when you are operating within a network of like professionals all operating under mandates of ensuring real-time reliability.

Recoupling (see coupling-decoupling-recoupling dynamic)

Reliability: safe and continuous provision of a critical service, even during peak demand or turbulent periods.

*Real-time reliability: Safe and continuous provision of critical service during just-in-time and just-for-now performance.

Resilience (and anticipation): absorbing or bouncing back from a shock (and planning and preparing for the next step ahead at the same time).

Scenario formulation, localized: position in mess and reliability space from which macro-principles are contextualized by networked professionals to a local case, thereby enabling professionals to formulate scenarios and protocols that embrace a wider range of contingencies when achieving and maintaining reliability in critical service provision.

Setback management: managing a setback (a sudden or unanticipated check on organizational behavior) that could lead to a bad or worse mess unless managed.  This means trying to pull the good mess out of one that could go bad by treating the setback as a design probe, test-bed for something better, an interruption from which the organization learns, or an obstacle to overcome so that the organization moves to a new stage of its life cycle.

Volatility (system): degree to which the network managing for reliability faces uncontrollable changes or unpredictable conditions in the task environment that threaten provision of the critical service.

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