Writing by Peter Hilton

On the origin of systems thinking

John Seddon is this week’s mandatory viewing - 03 October 2014 #management

When things go wrong, individual people get blamed. This is an ugly side of human nature, and neither software development projects nor the people who manage them are exceptions.

Traditional management approaches are held back by the pervasive assumption that problems are down to individual employees’ shortcomings, and that improvements must come from individual performance. The most harmful manifestation of this kind of thinking is of course employee performance management, whose name encapsulates the very assumption that (individual) performance is something that can and should be managed. This is so common in organisations of all sizes that it’s hard to understand that there might be an alternative perspective.

Systems thinking is an alternative perspective on management that is so counter-intuitive that a mere explanation (such as its Wikipedia article) doesn’t help with understanding what it might mean in practice, in a software development organisation for example.

In the following video, John Seddon illuminates systems thinking for managing organisations by telling a series of stories of how he developed his own approach - the Vanguard Method - a real alternative.

If you want to learn more, then read Seddon’s excellent book - Freedom from Command and Control: A Better Way to Make the Work Work - whose insights and case studies changed the way I thought about what management is for.

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