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CMSCB3001 Business Systems Analysis Soft Systems Thinking.

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Presentation on theme: "CMSCB3001 Business Systems Analysis Soft Systems Thinking."— Presentation transcript:

1 CMSCB3001 Business Systems Analysis Soft Systems Thinking

2 2 4 Last session we considered hard systems approaches 4 A ‘hard problem’ can be defined as –a person or organization that has a problem –one (or more) desired ends that haven’t been attained –at least two alternative courses of action that could be used to attain the end –A statement of doubt about which alternative is preferable –An environment of uncontrollable variables that can affect the ends sought 4 These can be considered as structured problems 4 Now we consider unstructured or soft problems that generally cannot be explicitly stated without appearing to simplify them 4 e.g. What should we be doing about inner city schools?

3 3 Soft Problems 4 Let us consider a prison system –Why do prisons exist? –Do they work? –If not, why not? 4 From these answers some relevant facts emerge –There is a problem in the prison situation –The problem is difficult to pinpoint –Different people have different views of what the purpose of the system is and what is wrong with it 4 This is typical of soft problems and is exactly the type of situation Soft System Methodology is designed to address 4 The methodology is concerned with problematic situations where a problem is known to exist but is difficult to define.

4 4 Weltanschauung 4 Consider this story: – 'Three students, one in physics, one in engineering and one in business studies, were asked by a professor how they would use a barometer to determine the height of a tall building. The physics student said he would determine the atmospheric pressure at both the base and at the top of the building, using a well-known equation, he would then convert the difference between the readings into height. The engineering student said she would drop the barometer from the top of the building, time its descent to the ground and, again using a well--known equation convert this time into height. The business student said he would offer the barometer to the building’s caretaker as a gift, he would then ask him to tell him the height.’ 4 Participants view the problem differently because of differing backgrounds, cultural roots, experience, education etc. 4 This is known as weltanschaung and plays a key rôle in SSM

5 5 The Underlying Philosophy 4 A methodological framework for action research 4 A Learning or Inquiring system which uses system models to understand and intervene in real-world complexity 4 A Singerian Enquirer 4 The theme is taking purposeful action in human situations regarded as problematical. 4 It is an organised process of enquiry, based on system models, which leads to a choice of purposeful action. 4 It is built around the concept of the Human Activity System (HAS) and accepts that whenever we describe purposeful human activity, we include interpretation or 'point of view' (Weltanschauung). 4 The outcome is learning which leads to a decision to take certain actions which lead not to 'the problem being solved' but to a new situation in which the whole process can begin again/ can be continued.

6 6 What does it look like

7 7 The Seven Stages in More Detail 4 The unstructured problem situation. 4 The Problem Situation expressed: –Use a wide range of people with rôles in the situation –Interest groups –Collect as many perceptions of the problem as possible –Features may include : –Structure... physical layout, power hierarchy, reporting structure –Communications... informal & formal –Process... operations, monitoring, decision making & control –Climate... relation between structure and process –Performance 4 Reflect W's... world views 4 Identify conflicts 4 Outputs - Rich Pictures and Relevant Systems

8 8 Root Definitions A Root Definition (RD) is a concise, tightly constructed description of a Human Activity System which states what the system is; what it does is then elaborated in a conceptual model which is built on the basis of the definition. Every element in the definition must be reflected in the model derived from it. A well-formulated root definition will make explicit each of the elements in the mnemonic CATWOE. C(Customers)... who are the direct victims or beneficiaries of the transformation? A Actors)... who would do these activities? T (Transformation process)... what input is transformed to what output? W( World)... selected world view; a system for? O (Owner)... who could abolish this system? E(Environmental constraints)... what does this system take as given ?

9 9 A General Root Definition 4A general RD embodying CATWOE might take the following form: A (..O..) owned system which, under the following environmental constraints (..E..), transforms this input (..input..) into this output (..output..) by means of the following major activities (...), the transformation being carried out by these actors (..A..) and directly affecting the following beneficiaries and/or victims (..C..). The world view which makes this transformation meaningful contains at least the following elements (..W..).  No RD can ever provide a unique description of any actual manifestation of a H.A.S. It will always be only one possibility out of a large number. 4A Root Definition will only be a meaningful description of the relevant system according to a particular W.

10 10 Practical Guidelines for Developing Rd’s 4Describe an interpretation of what exists, e.g. 'A brewery owned system for...' not 'A pub is a building...'. 4Focus on a Human Activity System(HAS) not a physical system. 4Human Activity Systems describe some purposeful human activity. 4Customers are directly affected by the transformation not several stages removed. 4Avoid complex RD's, adopt only one transformation per RD and one transformation to reflect one W.  Use CATWOE

11 11 Making & Testing Conceptual Models 4A CM is an account of what the system does in order to be what it is 4CM's are based on activities with elements as verbs 4In particular, CM's are based on the minimum and necessary set of activities as defined in the RD... and nothing else. 4Activities should be structured into a logical sequence. 4The first basic CM could consist of about 6 main activities to give a low resolution model, which should only be resolved into further detail as and when necessary. 4For each activity or decision ask the questions: What data are needed? What is the data content? What are the sources of data? How frequently is the data needed?

12 12 Practical Guidelines for Developing CM’s 4 Developing CMs involves a process of iteration between the RD and CM, refining each until a reasonable model is reached. 4 Avoid too sparse (simple) an RD by using CATWOE 4 Language - Express activities as verbs. The presence of a noun may indicate that a real-world constraint (how the activity is done) is being imposed on the model. 4 Method - Develop the 'minimum, necessary and sufficient activities' for the CM by identifying its output(s) and in reverse order, the activities required to produce these output(s).

13 13 Check the resulting Model against a Formal System Model 4 For example against a general Human Activity System (HAS) model. 4 The model could be a compilation of 'management' components required by a system that is capable of purposeful activity. 4 This HAS could therefore include: An on-going purpose or mission. It may relate to goals, objectives and ideals. A measure of performance Decision-making process An environment System Boundaries Resources 4 It has stability and viability 4 These allow an analyst to reveal inadequacies in either the CM or RD.

14 14 Check the model against other Systems Thinking Models 4 These may include: –The Viable System Model –Ackoffs 'Free Standing Management System’ –or any relevant established theories and principles.

15 15 Compare the CM with the Real-World 4 The difference between the CM and the real-world should be sufficient to generate debate and further enquiry, but not too great to seem unrealistic to the point of terminating further enquiry. 4 Too small a difference will seem unreasonable for the effort put into the study and too large a difference would probably seem unrealistic and 'idealistic'. 4 There are four ways of comparing the CM with the real-world. Use the CM to generate questions. –Use the CM to reconstruct a sequence of events in the past and compare with what would have happened if the relevant CM had been implemented. –In some cases, major strategic questions will be raised about present activities; Why do this at all? One can concentrate on the features of the CM that are especially different from the present and ask why? –Use the same form of model in the CM and in the model of 'what exists' and by overlaying models, reveal mismatches. One can also ask 'What RD is implied by the existing system' where a significant difference exists.

16 16 Identify Systemically Desirable, Culturally Feasible Change 4 systemically desirable... if the change results from a 'well conducted' application of the SSM. 4 culturally feasible... If those involved in the situation can express ways in which the change can be made. 4 Can consider three types of change: – structural... static elements such as organisation, reporting structure etc. – procedural... dynamic elements – attitudinal... expectations, attitudes etc.

17 17 Criticisms of SSM 4 The method relies to some extent on the presence of 'conflict' or differences of viewpoint within the problematic situation. 4 Many business situations simply are not controversial - the 'Law of Situation' prevails 4 'Force' can be used to impose a particular 'W' 4 The methodology implies that actors in a situation have the latitude to instigate change 4 when conflict does exist, the method relies on a degree of overlap between sets of views to enable changes acceptable to all parties to be derived. 4 It is not always easy to find changes which satisfy the criteria of systemically desirable & culturally feasible and which are acceptable to all parties. 4 There is some debate regarding the effectiveness of the methodology in achieving radical change.


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