Using The Iceberg Model to Improve Sociotechnical Systems

Systems experts have taught us how to improve our software systems: First, understand that technology systems are always, also people systems. Second, recognize that we need to think in systems.

Peter Senge has demonstrated that we blame the wrong things (events, situations or processes) for our systemic problems. W. Edwards Deming says that 94% of the time, the system is to blame for performance issues, not the individual parts of the system, Jay Forrester discovered counterintuitiveness: most organizations “fix” systemic problems by inadvertently making them worse. Donella Meadows said, “We'll go down in history as the first society that wouldn't save itself because it wasn't cost-effective.”

In this workshop, we will use the Iceberg Model to explore a complex system challenge. As a software professional, you can use this approach whenever you want to understand the root cause of a system challenge. The system we will focus on is one we all know: the technology industry.

Specifically, we’ll use the Iceberg Model to uncover the core mental models, patterns and structures that generate and reinforce patriarchy in software development.

In 2022, 92% of developers were male. Software development is a patriarchal system: a system in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. Despite sincere efforts, this outcome persists, which indicates that we are blaming, and changing, the wrong things. Let’s dive deeper (together).

We will:
- Understand the value of the Iceberg Model.
- Explore the structures and patterns that reinforce patriarchy in software development.
- Identify core mental models that reinforce those structures and patterns.
- Understand the impact on software and systems design.
- Envision (together) a target system architecture – what might the world look like if a radical change is possible?
- Model and explore ways we can positively impact the current system.

Patriarchy creates dichotomies – us vs them, men vs women. We won’t reinforce that mental model. Instead, we will practice identifying reinforcing feedback loops and introduce a tool for analyzing them.

Diana Montalion

Mentrix: Principal

New York City, New York, United States


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