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Soft Systems Methodology

[document] Submitted on 11 December, 2009 - 04:42
Keywords business business engineering human engineering social engineering soft systems methodology systems engineering
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CATWOE Analysis of Stakeholders

Part of the problem expression is working out who are the involved parties. Checkland uses mnemonic CATWOE to describe the human activity and its
situation. A certain Transformation (process) is performed in a certain "atmosphere" (Weltanshauung - world view). It is performed for Clients (those
who more or less directly benefit - customers - or suffer) by Actors. The activity is ultimately "controlled" or paid for by Owners, and occurs within an
Environment. Notice that some of the people categories (actor, client, owner, environment) may overlap.

Checkland actually recommends CATWOE analysis as the first step in working out a root definition, but I think it is useful during problem expression.
Still, you should avoid doing it too early in case you jump to conclusions about who is "important".

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Introduction

The soft systems methodology was developed in the 1960s by Peter Checkland at Lancaster University. This methodology arose out of attempts to applysystems engineering principles ("hard" systems theory) to business problems. Systems engineering emphasises measurable system objectives and the top
down decomposition of systems into subsytems. Advanced views of systems engineering (such as VSM) show how systems exhibit emergent(unexpected, counterintuitive) behaviour because of complex feedback loops among system components.

Extract(s)

The soft systems methodology was developed in the 1960s by Peter Checkland at Lancaster University. This methodology arose out of attempts to apply systems engineering principles ("hard" systems theory) to business problems. Systems engineering emphasises measurable system objectives and the top down decomposition of systems into subsytems. Advanced views of systems engineering (such as VSM) show how systems exhibit emergent (unexpected, counterintuitive) behaviour because of complex feedback loops among system components.

When applying systems engineering to what he came to call "human activity systems" (people working together to achieve something) Checkland found a number of problems. Organisation goals (I use "goals" and "objectives" more or less interchangeably) were matters of controversy; in particular most investigators assumed that all members of the organisation accepted goals set by top management, but this is usually not the case. Formal methods usually begin with a problem statement; Checkland found that fixing the problem too early made investigators unlikely to see different, possibly more basic, problems. And the method itself restricted what could be found out; if we expect the organisation to be describable by the interaction among a number of clearly bounded subsystems then that will happen - we will see in the organisation a reflection of our methods.

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