System thinking is a discipline for seeing holes. It is a framework for seeing the interrelationships between things rather than just the things themselves. It is about having an eye for seeing patterns rather than static ‘snapshots’. For managing complex projects managerial leaders are needed who can understand systems and the benefits that systems thinking can bring.
Project Management Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing the structures’ that underlie complex situations. It is widely held that a systems project approach adds value to any project management situation. It can do this by reducing the need for re-planning and reworking. It optimises the risk margins and allowing projects to fulfil their objectives both on time and on budget.
System thinking improves project management by adding greater stakeholder engagement throughout the life of a project. This, in turn, leads to a better understanding of the problem for which the real requirements and the right solution can be found the first time.
It can also offer more comprehensive risk planning and mitigation activities leading to higher confidence in final cost and schedule commitments. System thinking ensures coverage of all activities; meaning features and requirement are not missed. This not only ensures the smooth running of a project but enabling more successful acceptance and handover too.
The idea of a system as ‘a set of parts which, when combined, have qualities that are not present in any of the parts themselves’ is a very productive way of looking at projects, programmes and portfolios. There are many ‘elements’ or ‘parts’ to a system which may include, for example, people, processes, information, organisations, transformation and services, as well as software, hardware and complex products.
Systems thinking really can deliver better outcomes for projects. It is all about understanding what the project or programme is trying to achieve and ensuring that activities and dependencies don’t fall between the cracks. The Association of Project Management is a great source of information when it comes to strategic thinking.