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A systems thinking assessment of project management.

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Is it possible to improve project management practice by incorporating systems thinking techniques and tools in the process? This is the simple premise on which this study is based. It is a premise that is not particularly ambitious, but one which potentially may assist project management in certain environments to become more effective in practice. Why is it that project management needs to become more effective in practice? This is owing to a growing body of knowledge that points to the difficulties encountered by the practice of project management in complex environments. In simple terms, the literature has it that since project management is a 'hard' approach to problem solving, it cannot respond adequately to change and/or unexpected phenomena thrown at it by an unsympathetic environment. The incorporation, therefore, of a 'soft' approach in project management practice, like for instance, systems thinking techniques and tools, should make project management as an approach more robust and effective in difficult and problematic environments. The testing of a hybrid project management/systems thinking model, therefore, is what is attempted in this study. In what way does this study seek to apportion value on this hybrid model? This study makes use of meta-learning to the degree that it tests its own hypothesis in the process of its writing. The idea here is that the study itself be treated as a 'project' and that it be completed by utilising this hybrid model which incorporates both traditional project management methodologies, and systems thinking techniques and tools. This may be viewed as a curious conceit, but it is hoped that the reader will not find it untenable, and thus an invalid assessment of how this hybrid approach can function. The outcomes should speak for themselves, whether positive or negative. Clearly, to pursue this line of questioning requires a working knowledge of both project management practice and systems thinking. These two approaches to problem solving are discussed at length in this study, with pointers to their strengths and weaknesses, and to their potential for useful interaction, and a hybrid model is mooted which, it is envisaged, should prove useful to project managers. How does one assess the success of the new hybrid model? There are various ways that one can check the hypothesis, but ideally one would need to closely observe the life-cycle of an actual project, a project that is implemented and completed using the hybrid model mooted earlier. This kind of project is not always particularly easy to come by, nor is it a simple procedure to convince a project manager to adopt such a hybrid approach. It is for this reason, therefore, that this study is treated as a 'project' and its efficacy as a project commented on during the course of and at the conclusion of the study.


Thesis (M.Com.)-University of Natal, Durban, 2002.


Project management., System theory., Theses--Management studies.