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APM embraces new Systems Thinking SIG

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Making the link between every part of a project by adopting a different thought process could avoid problems, pitfalls and potential failure.

A new specialist group of the Association for Project Management (APM) is setting out to promote and encourage the benefits of systems thinking to all projects, programmes and portfolios. The Systems Thinking Specific Interest Group (SIG) is championed by APM’s new chair, John McGlynn, and has been set up in conjunction with the UK Chapter of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE UK).

While it is not new – this ‘mind-modelling’ technique has its roots in the world of engineering – until now it has not been widely adopted and applied to project management.

“It is a very productive way of looking at projects, programmes and portfolios,” said John. “It gives you the ability to take a holistic view, understand how all the constituent parts fit together and interact, so helping to better identify, mitigate or even avoid unintended consequences.

“In these times of increasingly complex projects and the rapid pace of change, systems thinking gives the project manager the ability to react in a constructive and controlled way.”

If any single part of ‘system’ changes or fails, there is knock-on effect on the entire project, he explained. Having the ability and skills to understand and identify the relationships between all the elements and the way they interact can prevent problems before they arise and can be powerful tool for any project manager.

As well as avoiding unintended consequences, the better understanding of requirements, problems and solutions can lead to greater stakeholder engagement and communication, enable better risk planning and mitigation and improve reporting.

An awareness of systems thinking is valuable for even the simplest of projects, added John. Developing a deeper understanding can be a real asset in managing complex projects, programmes and portfolios.

“I believe there is a definite gap in current project management practice and we need to fill this gap and introduce systems thinking as a competency.”

The new SIG will be developing the application to project management and offers those who join the opportunity to keep abreast of current thinking, tools and techniques, enabling them to get the best from the approach.


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  1. Paul Summers
    Paul Summers 06 January 2017, 01:32 PM

    According to Capra in 'The web of life' the roots of Systems Thinking are in ecology and gestalt pyschology leading to the General System Theory of von Bertalanffy. It is correct to suggest that lack of Systems Thinking is a gap in general management not just our branch.