Systems Thinking

Understanding system thinking is understanding a system, everyone, and everything that helps create, grow, and maintain that system. The system can include people, organizational design, physical and technical environments, other parts of the whole system.

Craig Larman and Bas Vodde begin to describe systems thinking in their book “Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS”:

“The first step of systems thinking is simply recognizing that there is a whole system, with elements that influence one another within a whole. These influences can have delays, create reinforcing cycles, and have unintended or hidden consequences, with a cascade of new influences.”

Suppose we are not looking at the whole system. Instead, we focus only on local optimation, which would be considered only part of the entire system (e.g., solving a business need/problem on the product interface (UI), regarded as local optimization). Local optimization might help us understand a business need from a UI customer interaction; however, it fails to understand how the UI will interact with the middleware, application layer, database layer, etc. This, to build products and services from a customer’s need, we need to know the entire system.

In August Bradley’s YouTube video under “Further Learning” section below, he discusses 6 steps to systems thinking:

  1. Identify and define the inputs, outputs, and movements of the system, setup
  2. Distinguish linear from circular, what functions in the system are linear, and what processes are circular
  3. Look for patterns
  4. Find the feedback loops, self-magnifying or self-diminishing patterns over time, step
  5. Understand the balancing processes that will help to maintain equilibrium within the system, step
  6. Study your system’s interaction with other systems.

These steps above will help you better understand how to identify, define, and maintain complex systems and how your system may exist within a much larger global system.

– by James Swanson (5 min)

Background Of The Term

System thinking was shared in a book by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde “Large-Scaled Scrum: More with LeSS” (Pearson Education, Inc. 2017)
A Case for systems thinking and system dynamics by Craig William Caulfield, Stanislaw P. Maj ECU Publication Pre. 20011

Further Learning

System dynamics WIKIPEDIA
Systems Thinking Intro – by August Bradley (10 min)
Systems Thinking – by Systems Innovation (5 min)

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