Thinking stuff: Thinking about systems - Institute of Supply Chain Management
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Thinking stuff: Thinking about systems

  • General News
  • 28th February 2017

Adam Voak, IoSCM Australia

Problems faced by logisticians and supply chain professionals are more complex than ever due to increases in information flow, inter?dependencies and the dramatic rate of change.

Peter Senge in his book ‘The 5th Discipline’ believes that “today systems thinking is needed more than ever because we are becoming overwhelmed by complexity”. System thinking allows people to break down complexity, to make the understanding of a social system explicit and improve these systems in the same way that people use engineering principles to improve their understanding of a mechanical system. Put simply, it is used to examine how we create our own problems, see the big picture, fully comprehend the complex web of relationships and better understand how organisational structure influences performance.

Systems thinking could be used by operational planning and management departments to better understand the whole. That is by studying the interactions with the other constituents of the system. Effectively looking at a set of elements that interact to produce certain behaviour of which it is a part. It should not be forgotten that any supply chain or for that matter any company is in fact a large and extended social system, based on the interactions and relationships of many stakeholders both internal and external to the organisation. It is these relationships that in fact drive the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation. Systems’ thinking is of particular value in situations that involve

  • complex problems by assisting actors to see the “big picture” and not just their part of it
  • recurring problems or those that have been made worse by past attempts to fix them
  • issues where an action affects (or is affected by) the environment surrounding the issue, either the natural environment or the competitive environment
  • problems whose solutions are not obvious

By better understanding the inter-dependencies and looking for patterns we are better equipped to deal with detailed and dynamic complexity and thus see processes of change rather than mere snapshots. Systems thinking offers much to operational management as it has a range of tools for gaining deeper insights, that can help shed light on current problems, especially those that seem to continually repeat by viewing them from a different perspective.

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