Systems Intervention Strategy

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  • Topic: Soft systems methodology, Systems thinking, Systems theory
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  • Published : October 9, 2011
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SIS was developed by Mayon-White in the 1980s. Its purpose is to provide a cyclic structure for analysing business systems, but, unlike soft systems methodology, it is relatively quantitative (rather than qualitative).

The strategy has three stages: diagnosis, design and implementation, each subdivided into several steps (see Mayon-White 1993: 136).


There is a zero stage of entry, at which point it is acknowledged that change is required, and that the process may be complex.

The first stage of the actual process is description, understanding the basic systems under consideration and getting points of view from participators. At the most basic level, this might involve drawing a spray diagram (see Fig. 1) to understand the different parties with an interest in the business, many of whom may need to be consulted.

The second stage is to identify objectives and constraints. The objective is to revitalise the business, which is described as ‘drifting’. Constraints include the resources available for investment and the staffing required if the business is expanded – there are already staffing issues with two key individuals about to reduce their hours.

The third stage to decide on ways of measuring these objectives: these will be quantitative wherever possible. Therefore, revitalisation might be measured by return on investment and increased turnover taking into account increased costs of running an expanded business if this path is chosen. Required staffing levels can also be calculated and recruitment needs calculated.


Following the analytical stages above, the fourth stage is to develop as wide a range of different options as possible. This may include looking at the practicalities of developing a restaurant, or developing the garden centre business

The fifth stage is to model various options. Models should be simple, such as the multiple cause diagram in Fig. 2. This diagram demonstrates the likely outcome of continuing as at present without investment. The cyclic nature ultimately contributes to a ‘drift down’. However, intervention in the cycle through investment could break it and lead to a ‘move up’.

The implications of intervention can be modelled using quantitative analysis e.g. cash-benefit analysis of different options or cash-flow forecasts.


The sixth step is to evaluate the various options that have been developed. Quantitative methods used in stage five help simplify this process e.g. the cost-benefit analysis and viability of cash flows may dictate whether a restaurant or expanded garden centre (or both) is the better option.

The seventh step is to plan and design how these may be implemented, with the final, eighth step to implement.

The process is cyclical: following implementation, monitoring may lead the business back to the diagnosis phase to consider improving the system further, or to focus on other systems.

Application Of Soft Systems Methodology (SSM)

SSM was developed by Checkland who found that harder methodologies were less suited to more complex problems with significant human elements (e.g. social, psychological), where a specific problem may be difficult to identify.

As with SIS, Checkland uses stages (see below: taken from Checkland 1999: 165-183), which appear to correlate to some extent with those, used by Mayon-White in SIS. However, SSM aims to identify issues that may not at first be apparent, while SIS focuses on analysing systems issues that are already identified, and finding ways to improve those systems.

The SSM Process

Problem situation unstructured.
Like the zero stage of SIS, this stage represents an opening of the process, although unlike SIS, a problem situation, rather than a problem, is the focus. With the garden centre, this is a sense of drifting rather than proactive development.

Problem situation expressed
Unlike SIS, the beginnings of the analytical process have a focus on qualitative...
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