A systems thinking about the real world. Stage

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Last updated: August 20, 2019

A system approach which is utilized for problem solving and analysisin complex and messy situations is Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) (Maqsood, Finegan, & Walker, 2001). It is especiallysuitable to complex management system and gets to evaluate as many distinctivechoices as possible. The idea of SSM was developed by Peter Checkland who isthe professor of systems at University of Lancaster (Checkland, 2000).

SSM uses the concept of an “humanactivity system” which means a group of people with a common purpose. SSM iswidely described as a seven-stage process which is shown in Figure 1.  In this seven-stage process, the five stages(1, 2, 5, 6, 7) are analysed in the real world and the remaining two stages (3,4) are analysed using the systems thinking about the real world. Stage 1 The problem situation in its unstructured form.

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This stage is mainly concerned with identifying role players like whoare the client (the person who starts the analysis of the problem), who are theproblem solvers (the person who is trying to progress the problem), who are theproblem owners (person who is affected by the problem), should determine thepolitical and social aspects (relationships) (Hudson, 2013). Collecting the mixof soft and hard data about the problem through formal and informal interviewsor quantitative data. Interview role holders in order to know the how does the structureand process work now (Dale, Alan, Bin, & David, 1997).Stage 2 The problem situation expressed as a rich pictureWhen essential data have been collected toidentify the key facts, stakeholders and issues then the problem situation isexpressed by means of a carton style diagram which is called “Rich Picture” (Yeoman, McMahon-Beattie, & Wheatley, 2016). A picture is worth a1000 words as more data can be communicated through any type of diagram (Dale, Alan, Bin, & David, 1997).

There are no particularrules for drawing the rich picture but it should include the primary tasks, issues,hard facts and soft data (like hunches and attitudes).  Stage 3 Rootdefinitions of relevant, purposeful activity systemsA critical stage of SSM is root definition as it isverbal representation of the system which we are trying to model when comparedto the real-world problem bringing about the change (Burge, 2015).As the following stage that is conceptual model is built using the root definition,so it should be worded carefully. Root definitions of relevant explains thepurposeful activity of human activity system.

For the analysis of root definition,the CATWOE criteria is mainly used which mainly checks whether the rootdefinitions are well formed or not (Patel, 1995). The acronym ofCATWOE is C – Customers which means a person who stands within or outside thesystem will be beneficiaries or victims of the effects of the systemactivities. A – Actors which means the person who performs the activity if thesystem were made real.T – Transformation which means showing the conversion of input (whatis changed) to output (to what)W – Weltanschaunng is a Greek word which means ‘World view’. View ofthe system which makes its meaningful.O – Owner means a person who has the power or control to stop thepurposeful activity.

E – Environmental features means the constraints that are significantto the system and which can’t be changed.Stage 4Conceptual models of the systems named in the root definitionBy drawing up conceptual models this stage explains onroot definitions. Developing a conceptual model includes two steps (Susan, 1994). One step is organisingall activities that are needed to accomplish the root definitions (everyactivity should start with a verb) (Hudson, 2013). Second step is graphicallyconnecting the activities together with monitor and feedback activities. Stage 5Comparison of models with the real worldComparing the results from stage 4 (Conceptual models of the systemsnamed in the root definition) and stage 2 (The problem situation expressed as arich picture) and see whether they are similar or different (Hudson, 2013). Stage 6Identification of the feasible, desirable changes            Basically, finishingwith a list of changes after stage 5 is useless as few changes could exacerbatethe situation and some changes may be unsatisfactory to people in the realworld.

Therefore, each change should be examined and analysed in order to confirmit is both systemically desirable (produce improvement) and culturally feasible(in line with beliefs, opinions and customs of stakeholders) (Checkland & Poulter, 2010). The intention ofthis stage is to gain some input from the organisational stakeholders (customersof the organization, managers, shareholders), where people who will be engagedwith implementing changes and the people who will be affected due to the changesto the existing system. Stage 7 Action to improve the problem situationAt this stage, every person should know the action that they aretaking to improve the problem situation and implementing the changes that areagreed at stage 6 (Dale, Alan, Bin, & David, 1997). This implementationmay bring about new systems that will affect the system which leads to moreproblems and opportunities and thus the cycle begins once again (Burge, 2015).  

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