Systems Thinking

What is systems thinking? Systems Thinking is the concept of considering your actions within a project as a whole. Applying each step to the whole system rather than any individual component to be successful.  Although some parts may fall short, the system as a whole comes out ahead. 

One way to break down the concept is by comparing it to a video game like World of Warcraft. In a 5-man dungeon, relying on the tank to have the best gear or the healer to have a huge mana pool leaves the other classes vulnerable. You would have to wait for the healer to gain back their mana or wait and resurrect the tank if they were overpowered. This way of thinking would introduce downtime or delays in the system.

Systems thinking would look at the groups’ strengths and weaknesses as a whole. This makes sure they can complete the task with minimal downtime or delays. Sure, it may take a bit more time to complete, but in the long run, it would be more successful at minimizing the pitfalls that may be introduced otherwise.

Importance of Systems Thinking

While working at a startup and evaluating their system, it was a constant struggle to keep their network stable. We had to deal with constant outages and systems with outdated security patches. Some of the firewall rules that had hardly been set up.

These are examples of technical debt, the implied cost of addition rework at a later time. They were the direct results of the startup choosing an easy solution from the beginning.

I came to realize that the startup was not in the business of having a reliable network. Instead, they were in the business of deploying their app as soon as possible, which is hosted in the cloud.  Before considering this, it felt like the weight of the entire company was on my shoulders. But now it seems that my actions ultimately were not that important to the impact of the bottom line.

I realized that I had to take a step back and change my outlook and approach the startup’s system differently.  In doing so, I was able to better assess the situations. It framed the benefits of my actions in a way that was relevant to the organization.  I helped set a budget for important things and helped lower SLAs for things that were not. Ultimately this lead to a better workflow for myself and feeling better about my work overall.   

Start Thinking in a Different Way

How do you begin thinking in a different way? One way you can start is by drawing out your organization’s value stream and focusing on it. You have to realize that it can be difficult to affect meaningful change in a system if you do not understand it.

Without it, you may be just as liable in making a negative impact if you you do not understand how it all works. The concept of a bottleneck, shows a system’s slowest part. Any change to the system otherwise would only improve local efficiencies but not affect the system as a whole. You need to keep this balance to understand what is required to improve the entire system.

Figuring out where to start can be challenging but rewarding, take into account the following:  

  • Consider your organization as an entire system.
  • Consider what value you personally provide to the company and how it affects the teams connected to yours.
  • Trace all the actions required from the very start to your organization,
    • This can be at a high level at first, but the more detail you have the better you can impact the system.

Use Systems Thinking to determine where your work can make the most beneficial impact to the organization as a whole.  Learning to apply this in your current organization and in future organizations can become a great tool and make you an asset wherever you go.

Thank you for checking this out. I hope you learned something new or enjoyed reading this. If you had any comments, questions, or just wanted to share your thoughts on this article, you can contact me at

e-Mayhem helps companies successfully deliver business projects. We also help companies avoid losses associated with IT disruptions and security threats. You can learn more about our services at or by emailing

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