The Manager's Guide to Systems Practice. Making Sense of Complex Problems

  • ID: 2218503
  • Book
  • 266 Pages
  • John Wiley and Sons Ltd
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This book is the result of several years experience of using and teaching Systems concepts, methods and techniques. The motivation for the text arose out of workshops for managers, and from teaching Systems concepts to undergraduate or postgraduates, where we were often asked What should I read in order to gain an overview of the principles and ideas used in Systems? We found that this question was a difficult one to answer because the available literature comprises mainly books and articles dedicated to particular perspectives or methodologies which have concentrated upon a particular theoretical perspective. We have then tried to address the question by providing insight into some basic ideas and methods as well as some underpinning ideas behind the approaches.

We have tried to meet the needs of three groups. First, to provide support for managers who attend professional development workshops in which Systems methods or techniques are explored. This text provides a primer to assist them in consolidating the practical skills and knowledge acquired at the workshops. Second, the book supports members of academic communities (staff and students) who need a text that provides both a practical and a theoretical guide to Systems ideas. The third group are those already well versed in using Systems ideas as a framework for thinking about complex issues who wish for a reference work with which to add to their knowledge. Those who will find this text useful will include members of the UK Systems Society, the Systems Practice for Managing Complexity Network, the International Society for Systems Science or one of the many Systems Societies from around the World as well as students studying one of the large number of Systems based modules offered in university programmes.

The text is divided into four sections which are intended to satisfy the beginner, who may be attending a one day workshop (Chapters 1 3), the learner who wishes to understand how the various ideas from Systems can be brought together as problem solving methods (Chapters 4 and 5); and the advanced learner who wishes to understand the theory behind the practice and the origins of modern Systems thinking and practice (Chapters 6 and 7). A fourth section (Chapters 8 and 9) provides case studies that can be used in a classroom situation.

This book is an ideal resource for busy managers whose time is scarce. It provides a rapid introduction to straightforward, yet powerful ideas that enable users to address real world problems. Systems theory and practice is predominantly a framework for thinking about the World, in which holistic views are maintained. In this respect it contrasts with some familiar techniques of management science, in which problem situations are broken down into their constituent parts with resultant loss of coherence. Having said that emeritus, we do not see Systems thinking as a rival to the techniques of management science but rather as complementary tools within a manager s armoury.

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Acknowledgements ix

Preface xiii

PART I: Key Systems Ideas 1

1 Understanding Things: The Manager s Guide to Systems Practice 1

Introducing some basic (but powerful) ideas 3

2 Models and Modelling 19

3 The Practice 33

PART II: Systems Thinking 71

4 Thinking about Systems 73

5 Influential Ideas 101

PART III: The Contributions of Philosophy and the Social Sciences 129

6 Philosophical and Sociological Influences 131

7 Systems Research 163

PART IV: Case Studies 183

8 Pulling it All Together 185

9 Cases 209

Glossary 231

References 235

Index 247

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Frank Stowell: Is Emeritus Professor of Systems and Information Systems at the University of Portsmouth. He has extensive management experience both within the university sector, e.g .he was director of campus at De Montfort University, Milton Keynes and within central government as a consultant within a Management Systems Development Group. He has a PhD in Organisational Change and his research interests are in participative methods of problem definition. He is chair of the Systems Practice for Managing Complexity network, ( which is concerned with providing workshops for managers interested in learning about ways of addressing and managing change. He is past President of the UK Academy of Information Systems and the UK Systems Society (, is a board member of the world cybernetics organisation and is presently the chair of the Council of Information Systems Professors. He has supervised a number of research projects including modelling complex decision–making in mental health care. He has published papers and texts in the field and presented papers at a number of international conferences in Europe and the United States. Prior to his academic career he was employed by central government as a member of a small team of management consultants.

Christine Welch currently works as a principal lecturer in the Business School at the University of Portsmouth, where she teaches in Systems–related fields. Her particular focus is on critically–informed approaches to inquiry and contextual analysis, in which area she holds a doctorate. She has published many articles, book chapters and conference papers in the Systems field and other related areas such as systems analysis, knowledge management and organisational learning, and has also supervised doctoral candidates in Systems–related topics. Christine has worked with a number of organizations in relation to Systems capability and organizational development, and has participated in the delivery of several workshops on Systems approaches, through the Systems Practice for Managing Complexity network. She is a member of a community of practice of business improvement professionals from public and private sector organisations which meets in Portsmouth Business School to explore and share approaches to process visualisation and development. She leads the Systems Thinking & Creativity team in the Centre for Enterprise, Research and Innovation in Portsmouth Business School. She is a director and past President of the UK Systems Society, and a member of the American Society for Cybernetics and the Informing Science Institute.
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