Systems Thinking:
Why you should care

Filed under Books, Other | Posted by PMStudent

systems thinkingTimothy Johnson is all about accomplishment.

His motto is ” Carpe Factum” which is Latin for ” Seize the Accomplishment”.? Having read his other books, I was excited to get my copy of? SWAT (Systems Working All Together).? Systems thinking has been a big part of? my life for a long time and is embedded in much of how I manage projects and people.? All the same, it’s great to “sharpen the saw” and there are some great key lessons I took away from the book.

Let me tell you a little about it.

A page turner

This is a great read.? The format is a story or “business fable” which I enjoy very much.? There is a good balance between character development for the sake of the story and the real meat of the systems thinking message is being conveyed.

The story juxtaposes an office environment most of us are familiar with and the world of police S.W.A.T. teams. Very interesting stuff, and I learned a lot about the work these women and men do that I didn’t know before.? There are a few tense points with lots of action and suspense; very compelling.? The villain was creepy and just a little too familiar.? 🙂

S.W.A.T Flyers

Throughout the book, the main character keeps a notebook where he jots down key systems thinking ideas as he is learning from the situations and people around him.? These are great for reinforcing the key points because they are stated in universal terms.? You could take these and write them on post-it notes to hang in your office or put them on a mind map for reference…. hey, I just might do that!

I enjoyed the illustrations of email from the characters to each other in the book too, and the diagrams that show what the team came up with.? These elements really help bring the story to life.

Systems thinking in practice

The appendix has some great resources for you.? Don’t worry too much about taking notes while reading through the book.? Just immerse yourself in the story.? Afterwards, you can use the appendix and S.W.A.T Flyers as a means of reference when you are implementing systems thinking concepts yourself.

Why you should care

Going from the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to systems thinking was huge for me many years ago.? It was really the discovery of formal project management as a discipline that got me thinking this way.? I started to see patterns of behavior in processes and people that I had simply overlooked before.? It dramatically improved my ability to:

  • Identify core causes of problems and tackle them
  • Consider the throughput of a system as a whole and not just individual parts (thank you Goldratt)
  • Leverage the power of feedback for continuous improvement

There were a few systems thinking concepts and approaches that really resonated with me from SWAT.?? Here’s one? I’ll share with you.

“Consistent where critical; variable where valued.” This is a line from the book stressing the importance of identifying those key parts of a process that can not be compromised.? The wording is a little quirky on the second part, but variable where valued means that within any system there will be places where wiggle room is required so the actors can respond to specific situations.

Part of this is a reminder to design your processes for the majority of situations.? Don’t throw in extra process and slow the whole system down just to catch a few exceptions that come through now and then.? Instead, empower the people in your system to react as necessary when deviations occur.? This is what systems thinking does for you as opposed to ad hoc process changes.

My Review:? 2 Thumbs Up!? Go buy your copy now!

P.S.? Dear reader, please share your own experiences with systems thinking.? How is it important to you?