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What systems thinking can offer portfolio, programme and project managers

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The evening commenced with a brief introduction by Allan Reid the South Wales Chapter Co Chair addressing housekeeping and safety related aspects as well as some current News regarding future events planned by the branch in the coming few months. Allan went on to thank Chris Lee, a senior lecturer at the University for hosting this event in the City Campus before introducing the delegates to David Cole our guest speaker for the evening.

David initially explained the concept behind “Systems Thinking” and how the introduction of this technique within a P3 environment offers benefits to all P3 managers. David also added Systems thinking helps to identify where interventions will have the greatest impact on projects, keeps the bigger picture in mind at all times whilst considering all stakeholders. The technique complements a top-down thinking approach and is useful for almost all projects and it’s said to be essential for the more complex projects. It provides better problem definition, offering more effective solutions and facilitates a contribution and buy-in from all stakeholders by a shared understanding of the problems by effectively communicating such problems and proposed solutions to all parties.

David stated that “Systems thinking” focuses on effectiveness not efficiency and that users of this approach endeavour to resist the urge to come to quick conclusions, recognizing that a “system's structure” generates behavioral patterns that can make assumptions more explicit allowing the user the ability to test them against any possible perceptions of solutions/outcomes. Addressing a given situation in this manner may perhaps change the perspective of a proposed solution resulting in an increasing understanding of the scenario.

Some of the generally accepted Project Management “Analysis Tools” were discussed which can be used to form an integral part of a “Systems Thinking” approach. The techniques identified included; Concept Maps, Rich Pictures, Fishbone diagrams, Causal loop diagrams and Trend maps.

Examples of success using a “Systems Thinking” approach in both private and public sectors determined in one private sector instance a significant reduction in supply chain costs become apparent after adopting this approach and in one Software company it enabled changes of its culture benefiting the launching new products. The public sector examples provided related to a Hospital process improvement plan and a local council scenario where an improved service become apparent coupled with a reduction in costs.

To demonstrate a practical example of the benefits of a “Systems Thinking” approach David presented a Case Study based upon the Portsmouth City Council initiative of January 2010 taken from the Wales Audit office findings.

In conclusion David stated that “System Thinking” provides a discipline to address complex problems and provides a framework for seeing the bigger picture which can be adopted in all P3 scenarios.

Martin Gosden our Branch chairman provided a “wash up” summary of the evening’s discussions. Systems thinking offers a valuable tool for project and programme managers to help understand the real drivers behind a project to be able to more clearly define the requirement and objectives of the project to fully meet stakeholder expectations. He thanked David for an informative and interesting presentation he thanked the University for hosting the event and hoped that all attendees enjoyed the event.


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