When you hear the word “system” what do you think of? Computer networks? A methodology of completing a task? Some kind of mathematical formula?
All of these in a way are correct but maybe incomplete. I’d like to posit a different perspective.
Systems planning is the act of analyzing various structures and processes, efficiently integrating them together as part of a larger picture, to achieve the mission of the organization. To be effective, systems must have a feedback mechanism to inform when variation occurs and to provide necessary adjustments.
For an understanding of this, take the dynamic of the human body. Our physical selves consist of a network of systems – muscular, skeletal, nervous, circulatory, etc. Each one of these systems is designed to work efficiently to produce a desired outcome within itself. However, each system cannot, and does not, work alone. Each system interacts with, and depends on, the other systems of the body. Feedback (e.g. pain, exhaustion, out of breath) tells us when something is out of adjustment.
In our non-profit organizations, we have various systems – financial, human resource, information, marketing/communications, development, programs, social, etc. Each one of these is designed (intentionally or otherwise) to support the mission of the organization through efficiently working on its own processes. But pull one out and try to have it stand on its own and it fails. There is no mission. There is no support.
All too often, with charismatic leaders and entrepreneur types, there is a quick development of a goal or desired outcome without giving thought to the supporting systems necessary to complete said goal. The end result can be frustrated and burned-out staff or complete failure to reach the target. I believe that when a strategic plan does not meet its desired outcome, a large part of the blame rests on the failure to deal with the systems and structure issues.
Allowing the various systems (IT, Finance, Development, etc) to develop and function independently of each other leads to the creation of the proverbial silo. The resulting internal conflict and competition over resources leads to inertia, poor internal communication, and higher turnover.
We need to move beyond the linear design of processes and recognize that interrelationships come into play in our complex organizational world. Successfully dealing with systems development and integration will lead to healthier work environment, a smoother operation, and a stronger, more adaptable organization with greater capacity to meet the demands of the change.
*Picture attribution: aman_geld CC2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/4173210620/in/photostream/