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HFSD. Soft Systems Methodology . Soft Systems Methodology . Objectives Understand the difference between Hard and Soft systems Describe the Soft Systems Methodology and the techniques used within it Understand the Soft Systems perspective and its value in business systems problem solving.

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Soft Systems Methodology

soft systems methodology
Soft Systems Methodology
  • Objectives
    • Understand the difference between Hard and Soft systems
    • Describe the Soft Systems Methodology and the techniques used within it
    • Understand the Soft Systems perspective and its value in business systems problem solving
hard vs soft systems
Hard vs. Soft Systems
  • Hard Systems:
    • Adopt a Scientific approach (functional decomposition)
    • Based of belief that initial and desired system state can be defined
    • IT is bought only to enable IS
    • IS exists only to serve some human activity
hard vs soft systems4
Hard vs. Soft Systems
  • Soft Systems:
    • Holistic approach adopted (importance of interactions among the sub-systems
    • An organized way of dealing with “messy” situations in the real world
      • managers unclear about objectives
      • large, complex, poorly defined systems and not fully understood
    • Based on work of Checkland -1981 onward
hard vs soft systems5
Hard vs. Soft Systems
  • Soft Systems:
    • undefined, unstructured, messy
  • Hard Systems:
    • clear-cut, well defined problem situation
  • SSM Aims:
    • deal with subjectivity in human activity systems
    • give subjectivity an intellectual framework
  • Methodology:
    • “A set of principles of method, which in any particular situation has to be reduced to a method uniquely suited to that situation” (Checkland,’81)
  • Human Activity System:
    • those where people undertake activities to achieve some purpose (all organizations are of this type)
  • Client: - the person(s) commissioning the study
  • Problem Owner: - the person(s) who wishes something to be done about the problem
ssm in outline
SSM in Outline

7. Action to improve

the Problem Situation

1. The Problem Situation:

- unstructured

6. Feasible and

Desirable Changes

2. Problem Situation:


(Rich Picture)

5. Comparison of

Rich Picture and

Conceptual Model




4. Conceptual Models

3. Root Definitions of

Relevant Systems




4a. Formal Systems


ssm in outline8
SSM in Outline
  • Sequence of stages does not have to be strictly followed
  • Backtracking and iteration are essential
  • Effective users use SSM as a framework not as a “cook book recipe”
  • Stages 1,2,5,6,7 are Real World activities
  • Stages 3,4a,4b are Systems Thinking activities
ssm stages 1 2
SSM - Stages 1 & 2
  • “Expression Stages” - build up the richest possible picture of the situation in which the problem is perceived
  • Output of stages 1 & 2 = Rich Picture
  • Pictorial representation of the Problem Situation containing:-
    • elements of structure
    • elements of process
    • elements of climate
the rich picture
The Rich Picture
  • Models overall System - helps problem owner understand and clarify problem & problem domain
  • Summarizes all that’s known about the situation
  • Exposes differences of opinion
  • Self-explanatory
  • two purposes:
    • clarify analyst’s understanding
    • communicate this to client
elements of the rich picture
Elements of the Rich Picture
  • Structure of problem domain
    • physical layout
    • departmental boundaries
    • reporting structure
    • line management
    • formal/informal communications
    • relationships inside/outside organization
elements of the rich picture12
Elements of the Rich Picture
  • Business Process
    • what happens
    • plans
    • operations
    • controls
    • “bottlenecks”
elements of the rich picture13
Elements of the Rich Picture
  • Situation Climate - Relationships
    • conflicts
    • worries
    • mismatches between new processes and old structures
drawing a rich picture
Drawing a Rich Picture
  • Name of Organization in large bubble in centre of page
  • Use symbols to represent people/things that interrelate in problem situation e.g.
    • Use arrows for relationships
    • crossed swords for conflict
    • think bubbles for worries
    • beady-eye for scrutiny
    • size for relative importance
rich picture usefulness
Rich Picture Usefulness
  • space restriction forces thought about what is important
  • helps to visualise roles in organization
  • can define aspects to be covered by system
  • can show individuals’ worries and potential conflicts
  • helps to identify primary tasks
  • helps to identify issues
stage 3 root definitions
Stage 3 - Root Definitions
  • A concise description of a Proposed System (developed from C-A-T-W-O-E)
    • Client : benefits directly from the system
    • Actor : will use the system
    • Transformation : conversion input /output
    • Weltanschauung : “world view”
    • Owner : the system owner (could stop T)
    • Environment : within which system works
stage 3 root definitions17
Stage 3 - Root Definitions
  • Root definitions formulated by considering elements of CATWOE & resolving differences in views of the system held by people in the organization
    • “A system owned by De Montfort University and operated by lecturers within the British HE sector, to provide quality education and training to students, with the aim of maintaining both number and quality of graduates, and thus improve competitiveness of British industry and commerce.”
stage 4 conceptual models
Stage 4 - Conceptual Models
  • Conceptual Model indicates what the system must DO to achieve the purpose stated in the Root Definition
    • major information flows from Rich Picture
    • activities to perform from Root Definition
    • activities will be sub-systems of system
    • activities will be decomposed into several levels
stage 5 compare models
Stage 5 - Compare Models
  • Conceptual models facilitate coherent discussion around problem situation
  • Used to help identify:-
    • why objectives are not being achieved
    • where changes could be effective
    • conflicts and worries
      • lack of effective communication
      • resources not present
      • lack of reporting back for control
stages 6 7 implement changes
Stages 6 & 7 - Implement Changes
  • Three possible kinds of change
      • Structural
      • Procedural
      • Attitude
    • which changes are feasible?
    • do changes involve a computer system?
    • changes may create new problems!
    • SSM not once only but on-going
  • SSM provides a set of guidelines for clarifying where improvements are possible within an organization
  • Does not require strict adherence to rules or procedures
  • Main difference between SSM and other approaches are the system thinking stages
  • Many activities undertaken by the analyst are conventional fact finding activities
  • SSM illustrated as a sequence but can be used in any order; encourages iteration as analyst’s knowledge increases
  • Encourages understanding of different perspectives and forms the basis of debate
  • SSM is a participative approach
  • Is not “final” but is a learning process aimed at accommodations among people on actions to improve the perceived problem situation
  • Checkland, P. (1981) “Systems Thinking, Systems Practice.” Wiley
  • Checkland, P. & Scholes, J. (1990) “Soft Systems Methodology in Action.” Wiley
  • Hicks, M.J. (1991) “Problem Solving in Business and Management” Thompson Business Press (Ch. 12)