Soft Systems Methodology (SSM)

Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is a cyclic learning system which uses models of human activity to explore with the actors in the real world problem situation, their perceptions of that situation and their readiness to decide upon purposeful action which accommodates different actor’s perceptions, judgements and values (Checkland, 1984, p.98).
We interviewed Stephen Powell from the coeducate project to identify the art of producing activity models in SSM in reality.

(1)SSM as an inquiring process, in turn established the ‘hard/soft’ distinction in systems thinking. Do you agree with this statement?
My opinion is that, it is a process of enquiry closely aligned to action research (i.e.) identification of problem, where the solution is enhanced by people working in itself. It enables people to identify, come up with the solution process to solve the problem themselves at some stage.

(2)The rules of SSM are always applicable to high level mapping. What’s your view on this?
I don’t see SSM as a mapping exercise. My view with a bit of experience in co educate project is as a problem solving one.

(3)Regarding the adoption and use of SSM; level of exposure is considered as a major factor and many feel it’s time consuming too. What’s your opinion on this?
Yes, I agree with this statement. Definitely it’s not a one man show. Adoption and use becomes easier when working in groups. In real world, we need to be pragmatic and practical. Following the seven steps of SSM rigidly might be time consuming.
I’d like to share my experiences with SSM like,
Initially, understanding the idea of complexity of the problem was a big milestone. Through interviews, focus groups we identified the exact location where the problem sits. We then made choices on discussions, interactions after the root definitions were framed up. Then identified, the biggest strength of SSM is that it’s practical usability in a wide range of situations by people without technical background.

(4)People taking baby steps in modelling, do you recommend soft side of modelling at the start or the hard bit like the Enterprise Architecture Modelling?
Yes, definitely I will recommend SSM to be the starting point to understand the problem scenario and then migrate to the hard side of the modelling spectrum. The main advantage to start with the soft side is that, SSM as a methodology offers good facility where the intensity of the problem can be compared at each stage.

(5)What are the advantages of SSM considering that it has played a good role in the co educate project?
I feel it’s not hard, simple to understand. The harder bit is the interactions with the people and formulating the problem scenarios. It does address some questions at the end by analysing the problem. I feel Enterprise Architecture modelling is not really involved in solving a problem. It’s a diagrammatic depiction of the problem.

References and Resources
(1) THE ART OF MODELLING IN SSM by Dr Mark P. Mobach,Prof.dr Jos J. van der Werf,Prof.dr Th. (Dick) F.J. Tromp
(2)Soft Systems Methodology in Action by Peter Checkland and Jim Scholes.

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