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Systems Thinking

“If I considered all the business functions impacting project success holistically, then project performance would be more consistent and manageable, but there are just too many factors to consider, and management would be ineffective due to analysis paralysis.”

Projects are at the root of Integrated PM. Change is at the root of projects, and it follows that change is at the root of Integrated PM. Central to Systems Thinking is the performance management of this change. Systems Thinking is applied successfully when these three situations below exist.

First, there is someone who is dissatisfied with the current situation. This someone would like to achieve one or several goals, or maintain current threatened levels of achievement using a change the project is supposed to produce.

Second, the way of invoking that change is not obvious. The problem situation is complex. The interested someone may not have enough information about the situation to know or discover all the consequences of decision choices, or to be able to evaluate the performance of these options in terms of their goals, principle purpose, or strategic intent.

Third, the interactions between various elements and projects have a degree of complexity that the limited computational capacity of the human mind cannot evaluate in the details necessary to make an informed decision.

The typical environment where projects exist are systems. What is a system? For now, a system is a collection of things such as tasks, projects, programs, and portfolios that relate to each other in specific ways, i.e. that are organized and follow specific rules of interaction. Collectively, they have a given purpose, i.e. they aim to achieve or produce outcomes that none of the parts can do by themselves.

We can recognize or view something as a system for our own purposes. This is an important insight, in the real-world systems do not exist or create themselves spontaneously, readymade for us to discover. No, Systems are human inventions. We choose to view projects as a system to better manage projects and improve performance.

If we are to deal effectively with the complexity of projects and decision making within our system environment, we need a new way of thinking. This new way of thinking evolved about 1940 and could be labeled ‘systems thinking’. This system thinking has been proven successful within the context of projects. System thinking is used in decision processes which help decision makers explore portfolios of projects in much of their complexity without having to drill down into the trees of the forest.

System thinking is used to find a ‘good’ or ‘best’ compromise solution, and is used frequently to give answers to important ‘what if’ questions, such as “how is the ‘best’ solution affected by significant changes in various cost factors?” or “What is the effect of uncertainty in a critical resource scheduling?”

Integrated PM is the collection of practices leveraging systems thinking to better manage projects holistically within an organization. You’ll wonder how you survived without it. In truth, you probably weren’t surviving, you just didn’t know it.

Download this free E-book- Integrated PM: Applied System's Thinking with Portfolios, Programs and Projects

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