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How is systems thinking used in your project?

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APM’s latest research fund study led by Dr Michael Emes of the APM Systems Thinking Specific Interest Group (SIG) and University College London (UCL) is now underway and is calling on the profession for their input.

The Systems Thinking SIG wants to conduct research to answer the research question: ‘How is systems thinking used in projects?’

To answer this question qualitative data has been gathered through semi-structured interviews which has helped us to understand the range of techniques that might reasonably be considered under the banner of ‘systems thinking’.

Daniel Nicholls, APM’s Research Manager, said: “The study covers an important and emerging topic area that should be of both interest and relevance to academia and industry.  We hope that it can produce significant benefits for not only the SIG but the project profession and thus we urge all project professionals and anyone with an interest in this subject to get involved by participating in the survey.”

An online survey has been created (APM Systems Thinking SIG Online Survey) from the information gathered and will help us understand the prevalence of these techniques across the wider community, and to investigate how much value can be attributed to systems thinking across different sectors and classes of project (differentiated by value, duration, complexity).

On completion, the results and implications of the survey will be fed back to the SIG and to the wider APM community.  

Take the survey


About the research lead:

Dr Michael Emes 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 now conducts teaching and research at UCL in the areas of systems engineering and technology management in domains including transport, health, defence and aerospace. He is Programme Director for UCL's MSc in Management of Complex Projects and is Programme Manager and a lead trainer for the European Space Agency’s Project Manager Training Course. He is a Chartered Engineer and a member of APM, INCOSE and the IET.



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  1. geoff elliott
    geoff elliott 27 July 2017, 07:27 PM

    In my view the survey is very badly constructed and quite simplistic. Systems thinking includes systems engineering as well as other approaches such as SSM, VSM, CHAT SODA, CSH, SD. Systems thinking is underpinned by some basic ideas and concepts such as clemsons systems rules. It is not really possible to apply SSM, VSM etc without understanding these concepts. However, systems engineering does make use of hard quality techniques such as Ishikawa, FEMCA, etc etc. VSM for example is underpinned by shannons information theory, Ashbys law of requisite variety, ashbys regulator models and concepts such as variety attenuation and amplification. SODA (causal/cognitive mapping) mapping is predicated on set theory a well kellys bi polar constructs. Other concepts include boundary critique, multiple perspectives analysis and terminal ends. See navigating complexity by Arthur Battram. There is major difference between systems thinking and thinking about systems. Both are required. The first construct of systems thinking is that systems do not exist? Happy to debate this.

  2. Richard Renshaw
    Richard Renshaw 01 August 2017, 06:57 PM

    Survey completed, I thought that this survey well designed for the purpose of input at the commencement of the study. Happy to provide support for this worthy initiative. Email

  3. Michael Emes
    Michael Emes 02 August 2017, 08:40 AM

    Thanks for your interest. The survey is deliberately quite simple, mainly because we wanted to avoid putting people off by going into too much detail. In my experience long surveys usually have very low response rates. Whether we've struck the right balance here remains to be seen. In any case, I hope to learn from the response to this survey and to follow this up with further research next year that may go into more depth.