The Genesis of Systems Thinking
The systems engineering approach to developing complex products was conceived during the coldwar between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Following the Second World War, theU.S. continued a technology-focused strategy that replaced mass production of weapons. The coldwar therefore became a contest in creating advanced technology weaponry
. However, developmentof these weapons – jet aircraft, nuclear submarines, cruise missiles, and spy satellites – requiredfundamental changes in organization and management practices. The rigid functional structure of the technical branches of the military and its project-oriented management techniques provedinadequate for the development of the complex weaponry. The military learned to think of weaponsas systems that can be disaggregated into smaller subsystems and components, developed at thesubsystem level, and then integrated into a final holistic system through a multi-discipline approach.
Complexity and Systems
A system is defined as
a combination of parts that function as an integrated whole
. Each part byitself is of little or no value. Value is only created in the interaction with the other parts of the systemto perform the function of the whole. For example, the parts of a clock, such as cogs, dials, andhands, are of little value by themselves. They only provide synergistic value when they areassembled together and collectively perform the function of the clock (the system) – which is torecord the passage of time
.The simple system illustrated in Figure 1 can be visualized as a simple entity consisting of fourprimary elements: inputs, output, interdependent subsystems, and an environment within which thesystem operates. The nature of the system elements are unique to the specific function, architectureand environmental factors associated with the cohesive system. The subsystems are highlyinteractive and interdependent on each other and their role is to utilize the inputs provided by theenvironment to produce a desired output.
A CBED F
A CBED F
Figure 1: Elements of a simple system
system is one that has many components and multiple technologies that are highlyinteractive with one another. They are interactive in such a way that it is difficult to completely
Published in PM World Today - February 2007 (Vol. IX, Issue II)PM World Today is a free monthly eJournal. Free subscriptions available at: http://www.pmworldtoday.netPage 2