How is Systems Thinking used in projects?

What is the research?

Dr Michael Emes of the APM Systems Thinking Specific Interest Group (SIG) and University College London (UCL) has been awarded a grant from the APM Research Fund to conduct research which seeks to answer this very question.  The study builds on the work used to establish the new Systems Thinking SIG as they seek to identify the range of activities classified as systems thinking and how these are seen to add value to projects. The study aims to produce a guide on how to apply systems thinking in projects and to understand whether systems thinking is a critical success factor in complex projects.

Why is it important?

Interest in systems thinking within the APM and beyond is growing, with a joint working group set up in 2013 between the APM and the UK Chapter of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE UK), and an APM Specific Interest Group (SIG) in Systems Thinking launched in December 2016.

This study will help to understand the range of activities that might be classified as coming under the banner of ‘systems thinking’ as well as exploring how these activities are seen to add value to projects.

Who is the intended audience?

The audience in theory would be all Project Managers.  We seek to talk to project managers in organisations that we would expect to benefit the most from systems thinking – i.e. organisations that undertake major, complex projects (typically long duration and with unclear requirements at the outset).

How can I take part in the research or find out more?

You can help shape the qualitative component of the research by taking part in an interview to share your perspectives on systems thinking. Later on, you will also have the opportunity to participate in a wide-reaching survey to APM members, or 

Why not participate in the Systems Thinking survey?

APM Systems Thinking SIG Online Survey

For further information or to get involved please contact Michael directly via:

What are the benefits in taking part?

The more people that take part, the more reliable the results will be, and ultimately the greater the value will be of the guidance and resources produced from the project.

Any other considerations?

In a separate project, Michael is supervising a PhD student at UCL looking at the difficulties of large-scale, complex IT projects, and we are looking for volunteers to be interviewed for this research as well.

The project will handle data confidentially and in accordance with the Data Protection Act. The anonymity of organisations and individuals will be preserved where participants require this.

Who is the research lead?

Michael is Deputy Director of UCL Centre for Systems Engineering and Head of the Technology Management Group at UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL). He completed his first degree (MEng) in Engineering, Economics and Management at St John’s College, Oxford, and a PhD at MSSL in developing cooling technologies for spacecraft. He worked as a strategy consultant for Mercer Management Consulting (now Oliver Wyman) on projects in retail, energy and transport, including a project advising the Department for Transport on how to address the problems of the rail sector in the last days of Railtrack plc.

He now conducts teaching and research at UCL in the areas of systems engineering and technology management in domains including transport, health, defence and aerospace, and is Programme Manager and a lead trainer for the European Space Agency’s Project Manager Training Course. He is a member of APM, INCOSE and the IET.

Join APM

Sign up to the APM Newsletter.