My Systems Thinking journey so far

Having worked in the NHS for over a decade, thinking in terms of systems was not new to me.  A hospital is a system, with lots of interconnected parts which all impact on each other and are also affected by the environment surrounding it.  For example, if there is a shortage of nursing home beds in the community, wards may be unable to discharge patients, which in turn means they are unable to admit new patients, which may mean a backlog of patients stuck in A&E… An all too familiar story.

However, the academic subject of Systems Thinking is new to me.  I’ve just submitted my second assignment for my Systems Thinking in Practice Masters and IT. WAS. HARD.  It involved challenging deeply held beliefs – like my belief that I’m always right.  Systems Thinking laughed in my face at that one.   (I haven’t shared this revelation with my husband, for obvious reasons.)  The assignment also required a lot of soul searching – because Systems Thinking isn’t just a professional framework, it makes you poke about into who you are as a person (and a practitioner) and why you are like you are – and that can be pretty heavy stuff.  But like all good things in life, Systems Thinking is worth a bit of graft because when the penny drops it’s actually quite transformative.  And that pretty much sums up my current understanding of Systems Thinking:

  • If you think you know the solution to a complex and messy situation, you’re probably wrong.
  • The duality of self-awareness and the ability to see things from other perspectives is critical. Simple, right?!
  • And just accept that the easy option rarely pays off.


What Systems Thinking means to my work

It’s understandable that we often dive head-first into a solution-focused approach, especially when we have massively urgent problems to address like 12-hour trolley waits in A&E or climate change.  Systems Thinking feels like playing more of a long game, but a necessary one.  One of the key themes in Systems Thinking is creating change which is ‘systemically desirable, culturally feasible and ethically defensible’ and for that to be the case, change needs to be bottom-up and co-designed by the people affected.  For me as a professional, that means listening more, learning more, and letting go of the idea that I have to have all the answers.  This feels like a satisfyingly logical progression from the topics that I spoke about in my last blog: taking a different approach to project management, amplifying unheard voices and prioritising environmental sustainability.

For LH Healthcare Project Management, it means Systems Thinking and project management in synergy: systemic and systematic, holistic and methodical, big-picture and attention to detail.  It means an inquiry-led approach to projects, a focus on identifying and engaging with stakeholders from the outset and throughout, and facilitating stakeholders finding their own way forward.

And so Systems Thinking and project management lived happily ever after (or at least I very much hope they will).  Whether I will pass my assignment is another matter entirely…pray for me.