Systems Thinking Approaches

Hard Systems Thinking 

Hard Systems Thinking is ultimately goal-seeking and focuses on intangible problems, where as soft systems thinking is a qualitative approach to the tangible problems of the real world.

Ackoff (1974) concluded that objectivity is “the social product of the open interaction of a wide variety of individual subjectivities.”

Hard Systems are easy to measure, assess, and evaluate. They are usually carried out objectively, using numerical calculations. They are goal-seeking orientated compared to the learning orientated Soft Systems approach.

Soft Systems Thinking 

“The “Soft” tradition does not regard goal seeking as an adequate model for much of what goes on in human affairs; it does not assume that the rich complexity of the world can be captured in systematic models.” (Critical systems Thinking; From Optimizing to Learning: A Development of Systems Thinking for the 1990s. Peter B. Checkland).

Soft systems thinking is people-centric and focuses on developing relationships.

One advantage of adopting a soft systems method to problem solving is that it is better understood and interpreted by the owners of the problem themselves.

Analysts and developers aim for optimum solutions for the organisation as a whole, not just part of it. Their practices encompass a logical, and by in large, scientific process which involves a degree of mathematical working in the evaluation and formulation of problem solving.

Quantitative collection of data alone cannot tell the analyst and developer about the exact outcome of the solution to a problem − only the likelihood. For instance, when costs of a system often have to be predicted or estimated, and where benefits cannot always be measured in financial terms. This means that the quality of data for analysts and developers is flawed, even if the system of an organisation is defined and evaluated in financial terms.

Systems Analysts and Developers

“Systems Analyst –  An individual in an organization who serves as an interface between users and computer programmers, listening to the needs of users and translating these needs into a series of functions to be included in a software application program. The systems analyst works with the programmers to assure that software programs meet real-world needs.” (21st Century Book of Computer Terms 1995).
Soft Systems Thinking, Developer
Systems analysts and developers work involves looking at an organisations current working practices in order to establish their system requirement needs.

In doing so, they identify the strengths and weaknesses of the system that is currently in use by examining scope: what is to be achieved, boundary: what needs to be avoided, interface the state of the system from the outside, and the act of practical interface between the systems developer and the system users i.e. employees, middle management, and senior management, as well as examining the subsystems i.e. the internal observations of the system.

There are three development strategies that may be adopted: the classical software systems development lifecycle, structured analysis development and the systems prototype method.

Systems analysts and developers work towards the modification and improving of systems. They use a variety of techniques and data sources in order to fulfil their responsibilities. These include interviews with users and managers. They can also use on-site observations, questionnaires, and data dictionary tools. The Traditional Lifecycle/Waterfall method involves the following steps: feasibility study, design, development, implementation, and maintenance. This methodological approach is not suited to all projects.

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