General Systems Management

Organizational theory and management philosophies have undergone a dramatic change in recent years with the emergence of the project management approach to management. Because project management is an outgrowth of systems management, it is only fitting that the underlying principles of general systems theory be described. Simply stated, general systems theory can be classified as a management approach that attempts to integrate and unify scientific information across many fields of knowledge. Systems theory attempts to solve problems by looking at the total picture, rather than through an analysis of the individual components.

General systems theory has been in existence for more than four decades. Unfortunately, as is often the case with new theory development, the practitioners require years of study and analysis before implementation. General systems theory is still being taught in graduate programs. Today, project management is viewed as applied systems management.

In 1951, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, a biologist, described so-called open systems using anatomy nomenclature. The body's muscles, skeleton, circulatory system, and so on, were all described as subsystems of the total system (the human being). Dr. von Bertalanffy's contribution was important in that he identified how specialists in each subsystem could be integrated so as to get a better understanding of the interrelationships, thereby contributing to the overall knowledge of the operations of the system. Thus, the foundation was laid for the evolution and outgrowth of project management.

In 1956, Kenneth Boulding identified the communications problems that can occur during systems integration. Professor Boulding was concerned with the fact that subsystem specialists (i.e., physicists, economists, chemists, sociologists, etc.) have their own languages. He advocated that, in order for successful integration to take place, all subsystem specialists must speak a common language, such as mathematics. Today we use the PMBOK®, the Project Management Body of Knowledge, to satisfy this need for project management.

General systems theory implies the creation of a management technique that is able to cut across many organizational disciplines—finance, manufacturing, engineering, marketing, and so on—while still carrying out the functions of management. This technique has come to be called systems management, project management, or matrix management (the terms are used interchangeably).

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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