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ITx 2016 Conference Programme

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Systems tinkering versus systems thinking

Monday 3:20pm - 3:50pm, IITP (IITP Room 1)

Looking back at the industrial revolution, the dominant ‘management paradigm’ was Scientific Management. This was pretty straightforward, focussing on control of function and tailored to mass production.

But this ran out of steam when the world got more complicated. People realized that things depended on so many other things.

A better paradigm emerged when Hammer, Senge, Kaplan and Nonaka shifted the focus to control of information. This new way of thinking, Systems Thinking, was better suited to mass customisation and knowledge work.

Now we have moved on to mass collaboration between multiple parties and we are in the domain of complex adaptive systems. Complex systems’ behaviour can’t be predicted – it just emerges. Systems Thinking assumes that the interactions between system components are complicated but knowable. For complex systems, this gives a false sense of control and is a recipe for disaster. Seasoned practitioners recognize the futility of grand plans for mega-projects. If the project is successful, it’s usually not due to, but despite the project plan.

Dealing with complex systems is different and requires a more experimental ‘systems tinkering’ approach. David Snowden’s sense-making Cynefin framework offers different strategies for dealing with systems that are obvious, complicated, complex or chaotic. Or simply unknown. Described in detail in the highly-cited and Academy of Management award-winning Harvard Business Review article A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making, the Cynefin framework often ‘liberates’ project managers and other roles from the shackles of traditional command and control-based thinking.

This talk also references Agile and DevOps.

View slides for this presentation


Mark Smalley

Ambassador, ASL BiSL Foundation (The Netherlands)

Mark Smalley, based in the Netherlands, is an IT Management Consultant at Smalley.IT and Ambassador at the non-profit ASL BiSL Foundation.

He is also affiliated with AllThingsITSM, APMG International, BrightTALK, BRM Institute, GamingWorks, IT4IT Forum, ITPreneurs, Pink Elephant, Taking Service Forward, Topconf, and Van Haren Publishing.

Mark is specialised in Application Management and Business Information Management and has reached out to thousands of IT professionals at more than 100 events in more than 20 countries.

Connect with him @marksmalley &