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Soft Systems Methodology - Case Study

Essay by   •  December 3, 2010  •  Case Study  •  2,190 Words (9 Pages)  •  2,443 Views

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Executive Summary

This report is based on the system at the Births, Deaths and Marriages office of the Salford Council. The first part defines soft systems methodology, which was the method used to gain an understanding of the situation, and why it was an appropriate methodology to use. A rich picture is employed to illustrate the situation at the Births, Deaths and Marriages office.

Root definitions are created using the CATWOE technique for the analysis of the system from the perspective of the customers and employees. A conceptual model derived from the root definition of the employees follows this. The report concludes with a comparison of the rich picture and conceptual model, followed by a set of recommendations for the improvement of the current system.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 1

2. Soft Systems: The Methodology 2

3. Rich Picture 3

4. Root Definitions (using CATWOE) 3

4. Root Definitions (using CATWOE) 4

a. Employees 4

b. Customers 5

5. Conceptual Model: Employees 6

6. Comparison of the Rich picture and Conceptual model 7

7. Recommendations 8

8. References 10

1. Introduction

The Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) office is located two kilometres away from the Salford City Council building. Inside the building, the reception desk is located ahead as you walk inside the front door. The reason for the buildings existence is to execute the registration of a life event, making appointments for customers with specialist staff, provide help with research on family trees and provides certificates of life events, where a life event can include a birth of death or a marriage.

The following report is based upon an analysis of the BDM office by the consultants using the soft systems methodology. It then concludes with a set of recommendations to improve the situation at the BDM office and a feasibility assessment.

2. Soft Systems: The Methodology

Traditional methodologies used to understand organisational problems look at the problems themselves individually to make them easier to understand. They therefore tend to only focus on hard problems as they easier to define. Soft facts, which commonly exist within a system, are frequently ignored partly due to the fact that they are harder to define, as they comprise of political, cultural and social issues within an organisation.

The soft systems methodology (SSM) was developed to focus on such problems. It is a methodology suitable for situations where people undertake activities to achieve a purpose. As it's concerned with issues such as the relationships between the parties of a system, the party's views and attitudes towards the system, and the objectives of the system relative to each party, SSM is used to understand human activity systems. SSM is appropriate where there is a problem situation to be solved, or where there is thought to be opportunities for improvement.

The problem situation that currently exists at the births, deaths and marriages (BDM) office includes many soft problems. SSM is suitable as the present system can be classified as a human activity system. That is, it is a system that exists because of the actions of humans within it. No one goal of the system exists; rather there is a purpose for the system's existence and missions it is expected to fulfil. What the purpose and/or mission of the system is depends upon which party's perspective is taken when examining the system. SSM will therefore allow the analysis to understand the problem situation, and therefore make appropriate recommendations.

3. Rich Picture

Rich pictures are used to help gain an understanding of a problem situation. They contain all-important hard and soft facts, such as the main parties of a system, information flows, concerns, issues, conflicts, relationships and boundaries. Below is a rich picture of the BDM office.


Root Definitions (using CATWOE)

Root definitions are basic descriptions of problems and systems, which can otherwise be unclear and difficult to define. One method of deriving such definitions is by using a CATWOE analysis. This answers six questions in relation to the persons affected by the activities, person who carries out the transformation, what the transformation is, the assumptions that make the definition meaningful, the sponsor or controller of the system and the environment.

Below is a CATWOE analysis and root definitions of the system used by the employees at the BDM office, followed by an analysis and root definition of how the customers perceive the system.

a. Employees

Client: The customers

Actor: Us (the Employees)

Transformation: To make appointments, to assist customers who are researching their family trees, to register a life event or to provide a certificates of births, deaths or marriages

Weltanschauung: We must deal with all the different needs of customers, and must deal with clients within 30 minutes of arriving at reception

Owner: Senior Managers

Environment: Salford City Council

At the Births, Deaths and Marriages office for Salford City we must deal with the different needs of the customers which include providing help and assistance in researching family trees, making appointments, registering life events and provide certificates to prove a life event, in a timely manner. The senior managers make all decisions concerning the office.

b. Customers

Client: Me (The customer)

Actor: The Employees at the BDM

Transformation: To



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