System Thinking

Topics: Management, Systems theory, Project management Pages: 14 (4111 words) Published: February 22, 2013
MSc. PROJECT AND ENTERPRISE MANAGEMENT
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON
ENVSPM1 – PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Tiago Melo de B. Souto

Bartlett School, UCL

“All projects need simple processes in place to monitor and control cost, progress and quality. It is argued, however, that projects involving innovation and complexity, almost regardless of size, need a “system approach” to project management” Discuss the above statement

Word Count: 3161

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Table of Contents

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 4 Traditional Management and Dynamic Environments .............................................................. 5 Innovation as a Factor of Discontinuity ...................................................................................... 6 Complexity within Project Management and System Thinking ................................................ 7 System Thinking ........................................................................................................................... 8 5.1. Equifinality: Flexibility across Systems .......................................................................... 10 5.2. Boundary and Collaboration across Agents .................................................................... 11 5.3. Integration ......................................................................................................................... 12

6. 7. 8.

Criticism of System Thinking .................................................................................................... 12 Conclusion .................................................................................................................................. 13 References ................................................................................................................................... 14

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1. Introduction The ‘management of projects’ (Morris, 1994) have been regarded as a multi-dimensional and dynamic process. It has been studied as a “cross-functional” process which carries embedded a broad range of internal and external elements capable of influencing the project objective (Engwall, 2002). Nevertheless, this current view emerged from the traditional system approaches which have been considered a static view of management, hence observing its own structure as an isolated factor. As contemporary environments embed complexity and high degrees of novelty, such approach has become outdated, since according to Engwall (2002, p.793) ‘researches have shed light on how the implementation of a project is closely coupled to its organizational environment’. Throughout this paper, two variables (innovation and complexity) have been mentioned as forces impacting upon the project management. Innovation has been conceptualized as an ‘evolutionary, non-linear and dynamic process’ (Edquist, 1997) and complexity as a set of interrelated parts generating uncertainty (Baccarini, 1996). Further, this literature review has examined how traditional management has become obsolete in its approach to manage projects without considering external environmental influences, provoking the emergence of system thinking with a broader sight of the project arrangement. From this standpoint, both innovation and complexity were depicted aiming to express how their characteristics turn an organizational environment harder to be managed and explored and, subsequently, how system thinking fit in their management. System thinking has been defined as a ‘way of thinking about complex processes so that the interrelationships of the parts and their influence upon the effectiveness of the total process can be better understood, analysed and improved’ (Walker, 2007, p.36). Holistic views have been emphasized in order to expose differences between open and close...


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Jackson, M.C., (2003). Systems thinking: creative holism for managers. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Kapsali, M., (2011). System Thinking in Innovation Project Management: A Match that Works. International Journal of Project Management, 29(4) , pp. 396-407. Kezner, H., (2009). Project Management: A System Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling. New Jersey, John Wiley. Lawrence, P.R., & Lorsch, J.W., (1967). Differentiation and Integration in Complex Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 12(1), pp. 1-47. Maani, K.E, & Maharaj, V., (2004). Links Between System Thinking and Complex Decision Making. System Dynamic Review, 20(1), pp. 21-48. Morris, P.W.G., (1994). The Management of Projects. London, Thomas Telford. Ollus, M., Jansson, K., Karvonen, I., Uoti, M., & Riikonen, H., (2011). Supporting Collaborative Project Management. Production Planning and Control: The Management of Operations, 22(5-6), pp. 538-553. Ozorhon, B., Abbot, C., Aouad, G., & Powell, J., (2010). Innovation in Construction: A project Life Cycle Approach. SCRI Research Report. Salford: Design and Print Group. Perrino, A.C., & Tipping J.W., (1991). Global Management of Technology: a Study of 16 Multinationals in the USA, Europe and Japan. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management. 3(1), pp. 87-98. Salomo, S., Weise, J., & Gemünden, H.G., (2007). NPD Planning Activities and Innovation Performance: the Mediating Role of Process Management and the Moderating Effect of Product Innovativeness. Journal of Product Innovation Management. 24(4), pp. 285–302. Sheffield, J., Sankaran, S., & Haslett, T., (2012). Systems Thinking: Taming Complexity in Project Management. On the Horizon, 20(2), pp. 126 – 136. Smyth, H.J., & Morris, P.W.G., (2007). An Epistemological Evaluation of Research into Projects and their Management: Methodological Issues. International Journal of Project Management. 25(4), pp. 423 – 436. Smyth, H., & Pryke, S., 2008. Collaborative Relationships in Construction: Developing Frameworks and Networks. London, Blackwell. Thomas, J., & Mengel, T., (2008). Preparing Project Managers to Deal with Complexity – Advanced Project Management Education. International Journal of Project Management. 26(3), pp. 304-315. Tushman, M.L., (1977). Special Boundary Roles in the Innovation Process. Administrative Science Quarterly, 22(4), pp. 587-605.
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Walker, A. (2007). Project Management in Construction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Williams, T., Klakegg, O.J., Walker, D.H.T., Andersen, B., & Magnussen, O.M., (2012). Identifying and Acting on Early Warning Signs in Complex Projects. Project Management Journal, 43(2), pp. 37-53. Winch, G. M., (2010). Managing Construction Projects. London: Blackwell.
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