Systems Thinking - Thoughts for the Project & Change Manager November 2020

Projects are initiated to fix, adapt, invent a piece of functionality to achieve a desired outcome. Sponsored and promoted by a Head of Function, the focus of the project tends to be polarised onto that functional area, sometimes to the exclusion of other functions in the organisation.

An early challenge for the PM /CM is to understand the interdependence and interrelated parts of the Subject functionality - people, process, and technology. Workshops are convened and inputs from Subject Matter Experts sought where the challenge gets walked through in a typically linear manner, identifying waste, faults, and improvements which are documented and agreed.

As a PM /CM we tend to look at the challenge in a mechanistic way, looking for order, categories and hierarchies across the people, process, and technology functionality. Even the metaphors we use reference machines, “mind is like a computer”, “universe is like clockwork” etc.

When we look at the real world we see that it is a complex, adaptive, networked, interlinked, organic system – just as is any Organisation.

Systems Thinking challenges us to think along several non-linear dimensions, challenging us to align our mental model with the real-world model.

From the start of our project we should question:

“What is the SUBJECT?” “What is NOT the SUBJECT?” “Does the SUBJECT have parts?”

“Can you think of SUBJECT as a part?”

Use USBISP paradigm of systems thinking - (Understand the System Before Identifying or Solving the Problem)

Understanding the Subject by understanding its constituent parts and how itself is part of a larger Subject is imperative at an early stage of the Project. Modelling this understanding using words, diagrams, Lego bricks or other physical objects has been shown by research that learners acquire and structure knowledge more effectively when information is presented in linguistic and non-linguistic format.

We will look at Relationships & Perceptions and how they are applied in Systems Thinking in future updates.