A wonderful change chat today with retired change practitioner Bill Braun on Systems Dynamics. Bill and I worked together as managers of the LinkedIn group Organisational Change Practitioners.

What is Systems Dynamics?

A way of understanding the behaviour of complex systems – it’s the dynamics of complex systems (social systems).

How to make the abstract element of systems dynamics concrete?

Practical applications of systems dynamics include: flows – changes in people, information and materials  eg the number of dollars that came in this month, the number of widgets in transit, the information that is coming in, how fast it arrives etc

Also interested in accumulation – difference between incoming flows and outgoing flows. Delays in systems are also of interest to us (examples provided in the financial departments provided on the frustration of non-real time reporting)

Feedback – one part of the system may produce some information that when another part of the system receives it they are compelled to respond

An example in practice in healthcare

The typical flow is a patient arrives, nursing unit, to pre-op, into operating room, post op, then back to nursing unit.

The change challenge was to look at the throughput of the patient process to ensure beds could be available

Nexus of systems dynamics and organisational change?

When people say they have a problem, systems dynamics can help in establishing the problem. Equally – very successful businesses or departments within businesses don’t often understand why they are successful. Systems dynamics helps with understanding why it is so.

How does System Dynamics deal with human behaviour

The ability to examine human behaviour – what’s going on now, how would rate people’s familiarity and acceptance and execution of a certain process. In SD we normalize the response – the present behaviour is 1.0 (example). A collapse of the system is 0 and improvement is more than 1. It’s relatively easy to deal with soft human behaviour as you can then look at probability.

How did Bill get into this field

Teaching at Baltimore University – subscribed to the Systems Thinker and the articles intrigued Bill. Bought the software on a whim and to play with it. The pathway now is via computing courses, quantitative computer modelling.

Professor Jay Forrester – founder of the field, would say this is the only way.

BUT you get value in doing a causal loop diagram and qualitative inquiry.



Business Dynamics, Prof John Sterman


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Dr Jen Frahm – Author of Conversations of Change: A guide to implementing workplace change.

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