Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Professional Service Operations

  • Krishna Chaitanya Balthu

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis presents an in-depth case study of a legal service provider focusing on the operational aspects of service delivery. It explores the challenges in managing operations by directly engaging with professionals through Action Research. Application of a novel soft systems-based methodology called PrOH modelling embedded within the broad Action research framework led to the elicitation of operational issues, followed by implementation of practical changes, consequently generating a better understanding of legal service operations management. Previous research focused mainly on the institutional perspective of change in professional services. This research presents a practice-based micro-level perspective on how change takes place at the organisational level through a rigorous intervention-based approach to change management grounded in a practical setting, a medium-sized law firm. This thesis demonstrates how operations management based interventions can effect change in a complex professional service environment, which is often perceived as a challenging ground for operations management researchers (Lewis & Brown, 2012; Harvey et al., 2016). This paper presents a successful way to do this; firstly, by eliciting the factors driving change within the UK’s legal services industry accentuated by the recent deregulation (Falconer, 2005); and secondly, by designing and implementing a context-sensitive change management strategy that delivers operational improvements and wider organisational changes within a selected legal servicefirm. Embodying the philosophy of Praxis, this action research project generated knowledge on three fronts– the practice of legal service operations management, the methodological approaches used in the research such as Process Oriented Holonic (PrOH) Modelling (Clegg, 2007) and the theoretical frameworks used to validate and make sense of professional service operations such as the professional service archetypes (Cooper et al., 1996, Pinnington & Morris, 2003) and the Change Kaleidoscope framework (Balogun & Hope Hailey, 2008). This learning is transferable to wider professional services industry and also benefits future research aimed at exploring and redesigning operations practice within professional service firms.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBen Clegg (Supervisor) & Chris Owen (Supervisor)


  • Systems Thinking
  • Soft Systems Methodology
  • Professional Service Operations
  • Legal Service
  • Organisational Change
  • Action Research

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