Systems Thinking in Complex Project Management

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Systems Thinking in Complex Project Management
Zsolt Nyiri, Other, Netherlands

Reflecting on the use of Systems Thinking in Scenario & Project Planning Practice.

Historically we have seen that projects often fail, despite the many attempts to get better grip on project development and execution. There is a strong need for a significant breakthrough in realistic planning and delivery - previewing the elements that cause projects to underperform. The Institute for Strategy and Complexity Management (ISCM) shows how consequent application of Systems Thinking provides a methodology to connect stakeholders' viewpoints with driving forces impacting project delivery. The 'viewpoint model' methodology and 'impact analyzer', a computer aided tool, helps to reflect on the effects of the driving forces that cause different course of events away from the original plan, using behavioral computer simulations. Hence, the stakeholders are not only made aware of each other’s behavioral effects, but also involved in addressing the solution. This visualizes which managerial strategy is effective in achieving the desired transformation.

The ISCM Foundation, a governance body for socio-economic transformation programs in Africa, can reflect on a five-year implementation journey. Here the consequent and practical application of the viewpoint model methodology - a systemic collaboration and risk assessment framework - allowed a dedicated team of volunteers to drive success. The same charity organization with functions such as identifying bankable projects, risk and opportunity management, processes, fundraising and implementation turned into a Portfolio and Program Management Office to serve its own portfolio of initiatives, such as in water, agri-business, renewable energy, infrastructure and education.

At all times Systems Thinking is applied: it allows a team to analyze the impact of its actions and it is keeping a team connected and focused on project deliverables. In short, theory serves practice - as it should be. The PMOs of today have to handle many interactions with cross-impacts on project delivery. Failing to recognize the 'blind spots' at early stages often has detrimental consequences to project delivery. In actual fact, the inability to recognize the blind spots in daily, weekly and monthly planning efforts is what often causes a plan to fail. Government sectors such as the defense force rely on early identification and sound decision-making processes - this task force cannot afford mistakes. It is the defense force that ranked our deployed tools and methods with the highest scores for assuring delivery success of complex projects.

The above re-confirms the practical validity of Systems Thinking in complex project management environments. The ISCM Foundation is a living example of the consequent application of Systems Thinking. Two short videos links are provided that will put Systems Thinking into practical perspective how a charity uses such think tools to deliver sustainable change: and

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