Open Systems Approach to Project Management in Organizations

When organizations have “flat” structures and consist of coalitions of people coming together with multiple loyalties, intersection of the organization with its environment being characterized by shifting boundaries; the informal nature of the work processes makes use of “open” systems approach towards organizations. The point to note here is that external environments both shape and support the structure and the organizations are viewed as systems with interdependent networks of people and projects some of which are tightly coupled but, most are loosely coupled (Scott & Davies, 2007, 63). This has led to a characterization of organizations which behave like “living systems” and hence the real world of human behaviour manifests in the way the organizations are run. The psychological and emotional aspects of the people working in such organizations are better served by open systems approach and hence, it would be advisable for managers in these organizations to take this approach.

Given the recent trend towards viewing people as assets instead of just another factor of production, managers in service sector companies tend to use the open systems approach. The open systems approach lends itself to malleability and a “shape shifting” nature which allows the organizations to “sense” the market and “intuit” the future trends (Malone, 2009).

The “organizations of the future” adopt this approach which relies on dealing with complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity and does not rely on formalized structures alone for decision making and support (Malone, 2009, 93). This approach would be beneficial to managers in all organizations as this lends itself to the complexities of the modern world and the 21st century business landscape which is anything but simple and linear.

Companies like Google and Microsoft can be considered as taking an open systems approach to HRM and have permeable layers in the organizational structure which come together for specific projects whose permanence can be measured in months and at the maximum years. Because of this symbiotic nature of the interactions among their units, these organizations and the managers in these companies often practice the open system or natural approach towards HRM. These organizations view themselves as throbbing and dynamic entities akin to a living organism that is in symbiotic relationship with its environment and hence the managers in these organizations favour the open systems approach towards HRM (Salancik, 2007, 19).

The rational approach to organizations is being outdated and though there are many sectors where the approach serves the purpose, the declining importance of traditional industries like manufacturing in the economies of the West has meant that many managers are adopting the systems view. However, the fact that the bureaucracies of the governments are increasing in size and that many developing countries are still in the phase where the manufacturing sector is dominant means that the rational approach is unlikely to fade away anytime soon. Whether managers should prefer one over the other would depend on the industry, the organizational structure and the real world imperatives that they face. Considering that management is situational and context dependent there is no one right way to get the job done and hence managers must “intuit” the approach that they need to take.


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