Strategy Dynamics Course Review

by Paul Simister on June 9, 2015

Many years ago I read the book, “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge and it triggered a long interest in systems thinking and systems dynamics as a way to understand complex situations.

To quickly summarise, this is about how feedback systems either reinforce (creating vicious circles or virtuous circles) or compensate for and balance out change actions so, despite your best efforts, things stay the same.

I think there is immense potential for systems thinking to impact on competitive strategy but few people have taken the idea and run with it to any great extent.

One person who has incorporated systems dynamics into his ideas is author Kim Warren and his work on strategy dynamics. His approach is contrary to normal systems thinking in that it breaks down systems rather than trying to see the impact on the entire big system. Nevertheless, he is interested in how resources and flows change over time, to either explain past performance or to predict and change future performance.

These ideas are well summarised in his book Strategy Dynamics Essentials (Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk). I enjoyed reading the book but I wanted more so I signed up for a course at his website. It is a 10 module course available for £450 plus VAT but you can buy modules 1 to 4, 5 to 7 and 8 to 10 for a third of the main price. Since there wasn’t an incentive to make the full commitment to the training, I signed up for the first four modules.

Strategy Dynamics Course Review

You are given a pdf copy of the Strategy Dynamics Essentials book but most of the training is:

  • By video, reinforced by quizzes inserted into the video;
  • By looking at worked examples in their specialist modelling software;
  • By building your own model.

My early impressions are that the course is well put together and taken at a fair speed although people who feel out of their depth with financial information and the concepts of flows during a period and snapshot balances at a particular time may feel pressurised to keep up.

I felt lost in my first attempt to use the Sysdea software but there was a separate video introduction available that made me feel more able to start building my model.

It’s becoming clear that, although specific numbers will vary between businesses, the cause and effect relationships will often share a common logic. This will mean that the model building may be much quicker than the time it takes to fit the information on drivers and the absolute performance together.

Niggles

As I’m going through the course, I find my attention waivers and I’ve had to split it into small sections. I’ve always had a problem staying focused with videos for some reason so it may be more an issue with me than the course.

You can go through the course using a free version of the Sysdea software but, if you’re going to use it on real projects, you’re going to need to rent access to it. That niggles with me even though the cost is small. I suspect that this is more of an issue for me in the period after my illness than it would have been before it because I know my earning power is severely reduced and I aim to keep costs low.

So far, I think the presentation of the dynamics of the situation in a model is shown nicely with graphs within a cause and effect style mindmap but these diagrams start looking very complicated as soon as you add extra resources and relationships. For people well used to the model, I suspect it is very easy to understand but for those unfamiliar, it can look very daunting. That’s a problem for me since I can’t expect my clients to master the model. I keep wondering whether a well-designed spreadsheet would be better in some ways because of the greater familiarity.

When I started, I was sure that I’d buy all 12 modules but as I’m working my way through these first four, I’m getting less certain.

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