Book Review: The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization

By Peter M. Senge, 2nd Ed. 2006, 445 pages

Reviewer: Mark Kaczmarek; Membership Director, Chesapeake Chapter

Psst. Don’t tell the management types that this is an engineering book. Honest. This can be used to help solve problems that businesses and organizations have and bring them into the 21st century and beyond. The author has latched onto the W. Edwards Deming (1900 – 1993) method for organizational improvement through continuous process improvement by being a learning organization. The author outlines the 5 disciplines and a perspective to use these disciplines within your org to weed out unused and unproductive processes and methods.

His 5 disciplines are:

  1. Personal Mastery

  2. Mental Models

  3. Building Shared Vision

  4. Team Learning

  5. Systems Thinking, the 5th Discipline

I find that Systems Thinking, as the author notes, is the most important of these disciplines. Many people, and not necessarily Systems Engineers, are capable of using systems thinking and analysis when solving problems of either design or organizational road blocks. Systems engineers have made it into a science through operations research and mathematical modeling to find root causes and solutions. The author does not dive into these areas too deeply, but that is the beauty of this book. The book can be used as a Segway with engineers with problem owners and architects, managers and even C-suite level “suits”. Any book that can bridge the gap by laying out the author’s methods with the non-technical reader is a plus. This book falls within the “soft” science area that many engineers find themselves often at odds with when presenting their engineered solutions only to have one or more in the room with the “deer in the headlight” look by the end of the presentation.

Like most books that present transformational change, this needs ardent tenacity and long term commitment to bring about the improvements that can be yielded through these methods.

When I first heard of this book, it was during a Saturday tutorial by Zane Scott, a Chesapeake Chapter member, who included this as a reference. I exclaimed that it was a “Management Book” and to what place did it have within an engineering learning session? He pointed out that it was appropriate for the engineers’ toolbox.

Though a bit lengthy, I do recommend fully this book to all that want to improve their project and internal processes.

This book can be purchased from the following vendors: