Soft Systems Methodology: Definition, Steps and Benefits

Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is a method to structure complex problems and to develop desirable and feasible changes within a differentiated group of people. Such a heterogeneous group can consist of employees, developers, users and customers, whereby everyone sheds a different light on a problem.

Soft Systems Methodology in 10 Minutes (nearly)!

7 steps of SSM

The following steps outline each phase of SSM implementation:

1. Identify the problem situation

Professionals attempt to comprehend the context of the issue situation during the first stage of the SSM framework. This step entails gathering data, working with involved parties, and investigating various angles of the problem. This step is crucial for determining the situation, its effects, and the perceptions that other people may have of it. Professionals can start discussing the issue and how it affects business processes once teams have a clear understanding of the problem situation.

2. Communicate about the problem situation

The second stage of SSM communicates the issue situation and goes beyond problem identification to promote various perspectives and ideas regarding how the issue may affect workflow processes and project completion. This step helps open channels of communication that promote greater understanding of a challenge and everyone’s role in relation to it because management, executives, and shareholders occasionally have different perspectives on how to approach and evaluate a situation.

3. Establish root definitions for the system

Teams can develop root definitions for emphasizing the ideal functions of a system for resolving it once they have identified, expressed, and communicated the problem situation. When using the SSM framework, root definitions must be established in order to analyze system requirements and assign roles to important participants in the project. The David Smyth-developed CATWOE method, which supports the soft system methodology, can be used to create root definitions. The CATWOE method outlines:

4. Create a model to represent the concept

Teams can analyze and define an action plan to achieve improvement or incorporate system modifications by using conceptualized models. In this SSM stage, experts create a model or diagram that establishes the system objective and specifies the procedures or methods teams intend to employ to meet the objective. The model also features metrics for tracking performance, development, and system improvement outcomes.

5. Compare conceptualizations to real-world models

You can evaluate the best- and worst-case scenarios for the actions and strategies teams use to implement changes or system improvements by comparing your conceptualization to actual models. Teams frequently consider how effectively conceptualized models represent outcomes when comparing concepts to real-world models. For instance, when modifying computer systems, a model might represent more effective ways to achieve desired system functionality. SSM then evaluates this model to see if it holds true in practical applications.

6. Evaluate possible improvements

Teams analyze potential adjustments or tactics that could change the system for the better or address the issue situation in this step. Based on the viability of the changes teams suggest and conceptualize, SSM evaluates potential changes. Teams often use analysis techniques to evaluate risks and benefits as well as priorities in order to determine what mitigation measures are required for successful outcomes. This step also entails assessing the efficacy, effectiveness, and efficiency of proposed implementations to choose the appropriate course of action in problem-solving scenarios.

7. Create an action plan

In the final phase of SSM, you implement the upgrades and modifications you assessed in the first phase. The steps teams take to address the issue must satisfy system requirements and advance the interests of significant shareholders and owners. Teams can restart the SSM process with new approaches to solving problems if solutions don’t meet the efficiency and effectiveness requirements they need to.

What is the soft systems methodology?

The soft systems methodology is a technique or framework for learning that relies on inter-personal cooperation when examining issues and potential remedies in business applications. The SSM framework was created by Peter Checkland, who established specific procedures for experts, executives, and stakeholders to adhere to when identifying, evaluating, and resolving situations involving system errors and problems.

By assessing the challenge beyond its predefined characteristics, SSM encourages the investigation and appreciation of a problematic situation. This method of problem-solving and collaboration can aid management professionals in improving their decision-making processes because it necessitates gathering and analyzing all relevant data about various situations.

Benefits of the soft systems methodology

For a variety of technical processes, the SSM approach can be advantageous because it:


What are the 7 steps in the Soft Systems Methodology?

See page 163 Figure 6 for the 7 steps in the process:
  1. The Problem Situation Unstructured.
  2. The Problem Situation expressed.
  3. Root Definitions of Relevant Systems.
  4. Conceptual Models. 4a) Formal System Concept. …
  5. Comparison of 4 with 2.
  6. Feasible, desirable changes.
  7. Action to improve the problem situation.

What is soft system approach and hard system approach?

The formal system model and other systems thinking, combined with soft system thinking, improve the conceptual model. Hard systems, on the other hand, use defined performance criteria to optimize the design and choose the option that best satisfies the requirement while remaining practical.

What is system methodology?

It is a method for organizing the most effective strategies for creating systems effectively. It contains things like draft documents and descriptions of the work that needs to be done at each stage of development. Multiple methodologies—which differ according to viewpoint—are available.

What is hard system methodology?

Hard systems thinking is a method for solving practical issues where a goal or intended result can be assumed. Then, a system is developed to meet or accomplish the goal.

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