16 Soft Systems Methodology

Soft systems methodology (SSM) is an approach for tackling problematical, messy situations of all kinds. It is an action‐oriented process of inquiry into problematic situations in which users learn their way from finding out about the situation, to taking action to improve it. The learning emerges via an organized process in which the situation is explored using a set of models of purposeful action (each built to encapsulate a single worldview) as intellectual devices, or tools, to inform and structure discussion about a situation and how it might be improved

(Checkland and Poulter 2010, p. 191)

16.1 Prologue

In the late 1980s, Peter Checkland became involved in a project with the “manufacturing function” (MF) department of the Shell Group. It employed around 600 people at the company's headquarters in the Hague. Shell, of course, is in the business of obtaining raw materials, principally oil, from around the world and transforming them into profitable products. MF had a variety of tasks: keeping abreast of the latest technology and informing the Board accordingly, advising on appropriate research and development programs, monitoring the performance of production units, and providing assistance to production plants as necessary. Its staff consisted principally of engineers and other scientific and technological experts. Support functions of this type are constantly questioned about what exactly they contribute to the business and so it ...

Get Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.