Application of Soft Systems Methodology
In management, problematic situations often arise. Some from a need to harmonize different peoples’ perceptions, some from need to expand the business and others from the need to start new projects
The soft system methodology is a general approach for addressing real-world difficult situations in management. It has been developed with time as a result of extensive research by Peter Checkland and Brian Wilson among others. It grants a framework for a step by step enquiry and knowledge concerning the organization. It provides a clearly defined research approach that is action based to assist in addressing iniquitous problems. It concerns developing models that don’t represent the real world but allows people to structure their thinking about the existent world through the use of systems principles and rules. It constrains thinking with an intention of eventually expanding it. It all begins with a real world problem and it is from the problem that the model is created. It makes some assumptions: That most organizational and management problems cannot be perceived as wholesome systems problems because the system is too complex to analyze and it also assumes that applying a complete approach to a non-systemic problem is important. There are the factors that make it suitable for use in projects: It is suitable for complex, messy situations, it is adaptable to the real world, it culminates into a learning process, it teases the problem situation thus making it more creative in the problem solving process and it is excellent at pointing lines and/or areas of weakness and also at spotting relationships, a vital aspect in project management.
The client’s project brief helps in identification of the firm’s goal, the strategic direction that the firm can use to achieve the goals. From it we can also identify the contrasting poles; the two options that can be taken towards achieving the goal. This makes it a complex problem, a specialization of Soft Systems Methodology.
It has seven stages addressing both the conceptual and real worlds. The first stage is the problem situation that is considered difficult and messy. This stage is in the real world and it involves acknowledging, investigating and defining the problem. At this stage, there are no constraints caused by organizational boundaries or strict definitions. Data is collected in whatever form and using any statistically appropriate method.
In the second stage, the problem is somehow expressed in the totality of its richness using the data collected. It should include processes, climate, issues that people express, people, conflicts and structures. According to Checkland, the best way of executing this stage is by the use of pictures. These inclusions should be evaluated to deduce what they entail.
The third stage is about root definitions. A root definition is a sentence put across in usual language, consisting of elements according to the mnemonic CATWOE, whereby C stands for customers who are the victims of the transformation, A for Actors who perform the transformation, T for the transformation process, W for Weltanschauung which is the world view that makes the transformation meaningful in a perspective, O stands for owners that are able to alter the transformation and E for environmental constraints; elements that the system takes as given. It is in the conceptual world and is mooted as the most difficult stage of the methodology. First and foremost, understanding of the different perspectives’ concepts that can be drawn from the rich picture is crucial. In the words of Checkland, they are called holons.
Stage four is the development of the conceptual model using the root definitions. The conceptual model is the planned set of activities that logic calls for in a speculative system which essentially is the one described in the root definition.