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Approaches to Systems Thinking
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    SSM was first developed by Peter Checkland (1981) as an approach for dealing with the multiple perspectives that we encounter in understanding systems and particularly in change situations. It involves assessing and mapping the viewpoints of the different stakeholders involved in a system, building operational definitions of the existing or any proposed system, and modelling the activities necessary to carry out the defined objective. It has a significant role to play in handling the ‘first metre’ issues of projects, through identifying player’s objectives, and their likely objections to change.

    Systems Dynamics

    SD is a discipline founded by Jay Forrester (1961) and is concerned with examining the causal loops and non-linear relationships in complex dynamic systems. In its pure form it relies on building mathematical models to understand the counter-intuitive behaviour of systems. System dynamics has been used in all sorts of businesses, and to help with many sorts of business problems, from resource management, through logistics planning to major strategic issues. As a discipline, rather than just managing the present, it seeks to help manage a turbulent future either through predicting the future behaviour of the system, or by surfacing and testing managers’ assumptions and mental models about their system’s future.

    Viable Systems Modelling

    VSM was developed by Stafford Beer (1975) building on the early work of Norbert Wiener (1948), Warren McCulloch (1965) and especially Ross Ashby’s work (1965) on variety and complexity. Stafford sought to develop a ‘science of organisation’, and the VSM embodies a set of fundamental laws about organisation that are applicable to organisations of any size or type. In the context of quality management, the significance of the VSM (see Fig 1) is that it provides a rigorous tool for understanding the organisational context of quality. Ultimately, quality itself is an emergent property of the system that is defined as ‘the organisation operating in its environment’. Our ability to control and predict quality depends on how good our model of the system is. VSM provides a framework for modelling the specific key relationships necessary for the organisation to remain viable through time. It ensures that each element of the organisation is offering a distinctive contribution and thereby tends to remove conflict, confusion and tampering. In doing this, it is significantly more precise and holistic than traditional purely process based models. Modelling the relationships between different parts of the organisation shows how the operation of the system drives behaviours, affecting everything from basic operations through to the politics of strategy formation. Experience shows that the VSM also provides a good platform for planning organisational change.

    Taken from:
    Assuring Economic-Quality with Systemic Thinking
    David Howard and Pat Hoverstadt
    The First Metre

    Bernard Robertson-Dunn
    29 March 2011

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