Soft Systems Methodology
Not an IS/IT methodology but a business one
Based on ‘systems thinking’
“ is a systemic approach for tackling real-world problematic situations. Soft Systems Methodology is the result of the continuing action research that Peter Checkland, Brian Wilson, and many others have conducted over 30 years, to provide a framework for users to deal with the kind of messy problem situations that lack a formal problem definition.” (wikipedia, 2015)
The seven stages are:
- Entering the problem situation.
- Expressing the problem situation. (Rich Pictures)
- Formulating root definitions of relevant systems. (Root Definitions)
- Building Conceptual Models of Human Activity Systems. (Conceptual Models)
- Comparing the models with the real world.
- Defining changes that are desirable and feasible.
- Taking action to improve the real world situation.
For us it is useful to look at stages 2 and 3 as they have the most value for helping us to analyse a mess and look for problems that we might be able to provide solutions for. In addition, rich pictures as a stand alone technique is extremely useful in many situations when we are trying to understand something complex.
In IS development it can be used to
- Identify problems within a mess
- Help to capture different viewpoints of that problem
- Pass the problem forward to a more recognised methodology for development.
- A succinct definition of the situation/mess
- Can have different ones from different perspectives
- Often try to create a consensus one.
To create a short paragraph
(the shorter the better)
answering these questions
Who (A) is doing what (T) for whom (C).
Why does this system exists (W)?.
Who owns the problem/situation (O) and in what (current) environment does it exist (E).
Teachers (A) educate (T) students (C) in the belief that education is beneficial to both individuals and society (W). The education system is owned by NZ Govt (O) and lack of funding is a primary issue (E).
Clients – Who are the beneficiaries or victims of this particular system? (Who would benefit or suffer from its operations?)
Actors – Who are responsible for implementing this system? (Who would carry out the activities which make this system work?)
Transformation – What transformation does this system bring about? (What are the inputs and what transformation do they go through to become the outputs?)
Worldview – What particular worldview justifies the existence of this system? (What point of view makes this system meaningful?)
Owner – Who has the authority to abolish this system or change its measures of performance?
Environmental constraints – Which external constraints impact on this system?
Who (A) is doing what (T) for whom (C). Why does this system exist (W), who owns the problem/situation (O) and in what (current) environment does it exist (E).
e.g. Public Hospital.
The patient (C )goes to the hospital to see a doctor (A) for treatment (T) in the belief that the treatment will cure them (W).
The patient funds this through their taxes (O) and thinks waiting times shouldn’t be so long (E).
Doctors (A) treat (T) patients (C) in the belief that everyone has the right to basic healthcare (W). The government (O) funds the hospital system but saving money and cutting budgets is becoming more important than the quality of care (E).