Gluing Up The Infrastructure In An Organisation

23 August 2015

Systems Thinking in Action: A Case Study

Recently, I’ve been working with a senior executive team in the packaging industry. One of their key concerns was the effective delivery of improvement projects, led by various managers and key leaders in the business.

The Key Issues

  • Unclear scope that changed and expanded
  • Project leaders lacking connection with their project and the bigger business picture
  • Projects slipping over time and not achieving the desired result on time
  • Lack of support and development for project leaders and their teams

The confusing part of this situation was that this very successful business had developed a number of important improvement ‘components’ which included ‘Project Charters’. We looked at this with the Exec Team and it became clear that the ‘Project Charters’ process was fine and it was not the issue, but in Systems Thinking terms the rest of the Business Improvement activities were not as joined up as they should have been, resulting in a disconnection with the project work and the various other support processes. In simple terms, projects weren't part of the day to day or week to week activities. Although project leaders had a good level of capability, the support for them to develop further and address issues and barriers was disjointed.

What We Did

Over the course of one day, the Exec Team and I drew a diagram that illustrated the parts of the improvement processes that should be connected together in a way that shows how one part is connected and dependant on others.

This is what we created:

The Outcome

The result of the work has led to a different way of thinking for the business leaders and now projects are directly connected to;

  • The overall direction in the business through OGSM
  • The strategies from the various levels of OGSM are gathered into a project hopper where Execs will manage the priorities and which projects require certain types of support
  • Support from the Senior managers is given at 1:1s using Charters, Personal Development Plans (PDPs) and ABCD sheets to aid direction and give support
  • Training and development is integrated into the delivery of projects making it more meaningful and timely
  • Reviews are more focused on the balance between task (the what) and process (the how)

This holistic approach was new to this company and we’re currently helping them review and improve it.

For us, it really did illustrate the need for businesses to break out of current thinking and explore the benefits of seeing the organisation as a system where one activity is dependent upon another and how joining them up makes things hugely more meaningful for people.

A final learning point is that although businesses may have all the parts, if they’re not managed in a joined up way, none of them are particularly effective.

If you would like to know more contact us on 01905 425209 or visit

Martin Gummery

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