A system approach which is utilized for problem solving and analysis
in complex and messy situations is Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) (Maqsood, Finegan, & Walker, 2001). It is especially
suitable to complex management system and gets to evaluate as many distinctive
choices as possible. The idea of SSM was developed by Peter Checkland who is
the professor of systems at University of Lancaster (Checkland, 2000). SSM uses the concept of an “human
activity system” which means a group of people with a common purpose. SSM is
widely described as a seven-stage process which is shown in Figure 1. In this seven-stage process, the five stages
(1, 2, 5, 6, 7) are analysed in the real world and the remaining two stages (3,
4) are analysed using the systems thinking about the real world.
Stage 1 The problem situation in its unstructured form.
This stage is mainly concerned with identifying role players like who
are the client (the person who starts the analysis of the problem), who are the
problem solvers (the person who is trying to progress the problem), who are the
problem owners (person who is affected by the problem), should determine the
political and social aspects (relationships) (Hudson, 2013). Collecting the mix
of soft and hard data about the problem through formal and informal interviews
or quantitative data. Interview role holders in order to know the how does the structure
and process work now (Dale, Alan, Bin, & David,
Stage 2 The problem situation expressed as a rich picture
When essential data have been collected to
identify the key facts, stakeholders and issues then the problem situation is
expressed by means of a carton style diagram which is called “Rich Picture” (Yeoman, McMahon-Beattie, & Wheatley, 2016). A picture is worth a
1000 words as more data can be communicated through any type of diagram (Dale, Alan, Bin, & David, 1997). There are no particular
rules for drawing the rich picture but it should include the primary tasks, issues,
hard facts and soft data (like hunches and attitudes).
Stage 3 Root
definitions of relevant, purposeful activity systems
A critical stage of SSM is root definition as it is
verbal representation of the system which we are trying to model when compared
to the real-world problem bringing about the change (Burge, 2015).
As the following stage that is conceptual model is built using the root definition,
so it should be worded carefully. Root definitions of relevant explains the
purposeful activity of human activity system. For the analysis of root definition,
the CATWOE criteria is mainly used which mainly checks whether the root
definitions are well formed or not (Patel, 1995). The acronym of
C – Customers which means a person who stands within or outside the
system will be beneficiaries or victims of the effects of the system
A – Actors which means the person who performs the activity if the
system were made real.
T – Transformation which means showing the conversion of input (what
is changed) to output (to what)
W – Weltanschaunng is a Greek word which means ‘World view’. View of
the system which makes its meaningful.
O – Owner means a person who has the power or control to stop the
E – Environmental features means the constraints that are significant
to the system and which can’t be changed.
Conceptual models of the systems named in the root definition
By drawing up conceptual models this stage explains on
root definitions. Developing a conceptual model includes two steps (Susan, 1994). One step is organising
all activities that are needed to accomplish the root definitions (every
activity should start with a verb) (Hudson, 2013). Second step is graphically
connecting the activities together with monitor and feedback activities.
Comparison of models with the real world
Comparing the results from stage 4 (Conceptual models of the systems
named in the root definition) and stage 2 (The problem situation expressed as a
rich picture) and see whether they are similar or different (Hudson, 2013).
Identification of the feasible, desirable changes
with a list of changes after stage 5 is useless as few changes could exacerbate
the situation and some changes may be unsatisfactory to people in the real
world. Therefore, each change should be examined and analysed in order to confirm
it is both systemically desirable (produce improvement) and culturally feasible
(in line with beliefs, opinions and customs of stakeholders) (Checkland & Poulter, 2010). The intention of
this stage is to gain some input from the organisational stakeholders (customers
of the organization, managers, shareholders), where people who will be engaged
with implementing changes and the people who will be affected due to the changes
to the existing system.
Stage 7 Action to improve the problem situation
At this stage, every person should know the action that they are
taking to improve the problem situation and implementing the changes that are
agreed at stage 6 (Dale, Alan, Bin, & David, 1997). This implementation
may bring about new systems that will affect the system which leads to more
problems and opportunities and thus the cycle begins once again (Burge, 2015).