I attended a local event this week, Agile Open San Diego. Zach Bonaker hosted a session on Systems Thinking. I shared a couple of concepts that I often include in my classes and promised to list some resources on the topic.

I was fortunate to be immersed in the topic in a previous life under the tutelage of some of the early practitioners. In those days it was called Systems Dynamics, a set of principles accompanied by a computer simulation technique of the same name.

The field of inquiry has grown since then and now includes many other fields: cellular automata, complexity theory, resilience theory, wicked problems, Learning Organization. Many of these have relevance to Agile practitioners. Lean manufacturing and Scrum leverage Systems Thinking concepts such as feedback and delay, local optimization, self-organization, counter-intuitive behaviors and emergence.
Feedback Loops in a Systems Dynamics Model

I promised to share some useful resources with my conference mates and, since this blog has been stale for a long while, I decided to just post those references here so more people can see them. Systems thinking is a wide array of concepts and tools that have always held some fascination for me. Maybe you will find something interesting and even valuable in this collection.

  • Here is a presentation on some of these that I have done at a couple of local events.
  • A Systems Dynamics primer is Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows (2008), my graduate school advisor.
  • Systems Thinking Basics is a self-study book that uses business scenarios rather than resource/socio-political scenarios commonly used in much  the literature.
  • There are templates for the basic loops and archetypes. You can find these in John Sterman’s Business Dynamics book (2000).
  • The best known book is the Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge which gave rise to the field of Learning Organizations. If you are looking for practical exercises, try the companion Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (1994).
  • There is a treasure chest of learning games in The Systems Thinking Playbook (1995). I have used some of these to illustrate decentralized control, local sub-optimization, counter-intuitive behavior and resistance to change.  There are some exercises in it that will look familiar to anyone who knows the Agile Ball Game. The included videos are fun. I especially like the hulu-hoop version of Avalanche on the video.
 

Resources for Systems Thinking

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