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Stage 2: The situation analysed

The first step is to develop a picture (called in soft systems terminology a rich picture) that encapsulates all the elements that people think are involved in the problem. Once the rich picture has been drawn, the analyst will attempt to extract ‘issues’ and key tasks.

Issues are areas of contention within the problem situation. Key tasks are the essential jobs that must be undertaken within the problem situation.

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Stage 1: The problem situation unstructured

The approach begins with a situation in which one or more people perceive that there is a problem. It will not be possible to define the problem or its setting with any precision and, in any event, the different people involved will have different ideas.

3.9 Systems methodologies for managing change: soft systems approach

Various ‘softer’ approaches to problem solving have been proposed. The one that I shall describe is based on (although not exactly the same as) the methodology developed by Peter Checkland and his collaborators at the University of Lancaster. This has been applied to systems problems in a number of projects.

The soft systems approach is based on a number of key principles.

  • Problems do not have an existence that is independent of the peo
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Implementation

Implementation involves all the detailed design, development and installation tasks required to get the agreed proposal operating.

Figure 34 shows an arrow leading from ‘implementation’ to ‘problem/opportunity’; this recognises that implementation is never the end of the story. The successful completion of a project will give rise either to other opportunities or to a further set of problems that ne
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Stage 8: Choice (OK, let's go)

You might imagine that after all that has gone before, the decision about whether to go ahead or not would be automatic, but this is rarely the case. There will still be much discussion and ‘fine tuning’ necessary to ensure that the proposal is acceptable. It is at this stage that any qualitative measures of performance are brought into play.

Stage 7: Option testing (how well will each work?)

While the identified objectives and constraints have been referred to constantly during the development stage, the testing stage of the approach is a more formal analysis of each option. Its objective is to determine whether:

  • the option will meet the operational objectives

  • it is technically feasible

  • it is organisationally feasible

  • it will meet the financial objectives.

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Stage 6: Developing the options (what would the options be like?)

The objective here is to develop the routes to objectives generated in Stage 4 to the position where they could be implemented if the decision to go ahead were given. This involves doing sufficient work on each option for technical and other details to be defined, and for costs and benefits to be assessed, and for a sound decision to be taken, while at the same time minimising the time and resources devoted to the task.

Stage 5: Formulating measures of performance (how will we know when we have arrived?)

The hard systems approach emphasises the need to have measurable means of assessing the efficacy of any potential solution or design, but recognizes that this may not always be possible.


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Stage 4: Generation of routes to objectives (how could we get there?)

This stage explores the different ways of achieving the defined objectives. It is the most imaginative and free-thinking stage of the approach. The idea is initially to generate as many ideas as possible, then to whittle the list down to two or three ‘definite possibilities’ that can be carried further in the development stage.

Stage 3: Identification of objectives and constraints (where would we like to be?)

This stage forces the project team to make explicit the objectives and constraints associated with the problem or opportunity. This is valuable for several reasons.

  • It forces everyone concerned to clarify what they hope to achieve.

  • The need to agree objectives and constraints can bring into the open disagreements that otherwise might emerge only at a later stage of the approach.

  • The process of defining, elaborating an
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Stage 2: Analysis of the existing situation (where are we now?)

Having defined and agreed on the problem, it is necessary to decide on the system in which you consider it plays a part. In practice the two stages are closely linked and the analysis of the existing system nearly always means a redefinition or refinement of the problem or opportunity. Identifying and defining the problem and the system or systems that relate to it are critical for the success of subsequent analysis.

Stage 1: Problem definition (what is the problem?)

The aim of the first stage is to identify and describe the problem or opportunity. While each stage depends on the success of the previous stage, it is the initial stages of a project that set the direction for the work as a whole. For this reason a clear definition and firm agreement on the problem or opportunity are essential.

Problems and opportunities are like two sides of a coin: one of them can always be formulated in terms of the other. The best way to distinguish between them is
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