Last Updated 16 Jun 2020

Complex problem situation

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System methodologies are widely engaged in planning, structuring, implementation and evaluation, each addresses some specific viewpoints about a particular system problem solving. For instance, hard system thinking attempt to 'make step-by-step control of projects feasible, it elaborate and popularize the use of mathematical models in order to aid decision making O5.' Meanwhile, every system methodology has its own weakness as well.

In the complex actual situation, managers have to face ranges of diversified system problems, a method of choosing and using system methodologies is being called for. 'Based upon critical systems thinking, Total system intervention (TSI) uses a range of systems metaphors to encourage creative thinking about organizations, and the issues and problems. Once agreement is reached about which are the most significant for the organization of concern, and appropriate systems-based intervention methodology/methodologies can be employed. Choice of an appropriate systems methodology will guide problem solving in a way that ensures it addresses what are the main concerns of the particular organization involved.O6'

To highlight key issues and problems an organization has to focus on, such as MTS's KPI implementation; and to guide intervention by linking the problem to appropriate systems methodologies. TSI introduces 'the system of systems methodologies' (SOSM), which demonstrating the relationship and distinguishing the adoption of different systems methodologies and (Figure 3.1). Back to MTS's KPI implementation, the meeting did provide good starting points, from where we were able to think creatively about new solutions. TSI also summarize 3 stages of solving problems in a systematic way, which are labelled creativity, choice and implementation. These 3 phases are summarized as below O7:

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Phase I: Creativity. Using systems metaphors to help viewing the problems creatively, to generate basis for choice of appropriate systems intervention methodology Phase II: Choice. Choosing "dominant" & "dependent" appropriate system methodology based on SOSM Phase III: Implementation: Using systems methodologies employed to achieve vital aspects and co-ordinated changes It is hardly to implement KPI simply following 3 steps. Taking database as a 'dominant' concern firstly, after been well organized, new attentions must be put on co-operation between vendors, logistic assistant and financial analyst.

Illustrated by Figure 3.2, TSI stresses that, the 3 stages continually to interact with each other. "As the intervention proceeds, using TSI, so the nature of the problem situation will be continually reviewed, as will the choice of appropriate systems methodology. In highly complex problem situation it is advisable to address at the same time different aspects revealed by taking different perspectives on it. This involves employing a number of systems methodologies in combination. In these circumstances it is necessary to nominate one methodology as 'dominant' and others as 'supportive', although these relationships may changes as the study progress O8"

Main Problem Shooting Using SOSM to describe KPI implementation, given that the problem was linked to different and interactive factors, I would like to put it into 'pluralist ; complex' segment (refer to Figure 3.1) instead of positioning it in 'Simple ; unitary' as did in 1st trial. Let's compare what we actually did and what SSM illustrates, as suggested by TSI. In our problem-shooting meeting, some issues were pointed out. Difficulties on obtaining relevant information (piece, weight ; capacity) could be coursed by: limitation of vendors hardware (lack of facilities); or by the limitation of vendors software (do not know how to fill-up the database framework correctly); or by co-operation among persons (fail to switch operation introductions to guide vendors efficiently). Also could be coursed by incomplete data processing method.
After setting-up "root definition", SSM suggests a conceptual model to link system thinking and real world; meanwhile, to be a part of TSI, it is also the process of shifting the 'dominant' system actor from SSM (stage 4) to VSM. Looking at out KPI implementation from VSM point of view (Figure 5.1), the follow steps elaborate system diagnosis and suggest an operation model:

1. System 1, operation system: vendors were constrained to provide sets of required information, without been concerned the difficulties of measuring with distinct methods. These did not only narrow their variety available to arrange cargo shipments, but also reduce the accuracy of information. "Standard KPI" provides opportunities to remove these burdens. Vendors would be required to provide only a list of transported materials, which is based on BPCS system order, in another words, they have more autonomies to deal with business

2. System 2, coordination: system 1 has certain autonomy to deal with its own matters, but it still won't perform regularly without been stabilized. System 2 exists to balance different system 1 units and to coordinate their activities. In our KPI implementation, logistic assistant took the responsibility to keep tracking whether the higher level decision been properly undertaken by system 1, and also preventing unexpected oscillations by monitoring BPCS data with information from vendors from time to time

3. System 3, control: "System 3 oversees the procedures which are implemented through System 2, and is an alert to new sources of oscillation that may arise.O10" Financial analyst aims to transmit standardized database from higher level down to system 1; it coalesces data from system 1 divisions and transfer upwards to system 3. Meanwhile, during this procedure, financial analyst also take the responsibilities to audit system 1's operation (system 3), he may go directly to the market, gathering information in terms of average cost per kilometre and piece, or average cost per ton and piece, thus to ensure the availability of KPI data

4. System 4, intelligence: as a development function of the whole model, system 4 transfers information both upward and downward. By processing lower level database into expected form for top management, it helps to prevent overload system 5 with mass and confusing information; also, its direct linkage with external environment enables the whole to match environment variations. In our KPI implementation, financial analyst took this role together with system 3. Managerial thought was quantificated and transfer to readable formats for operation system (vendors); afterwards, KPI report was generated from integrated databases and became supportive for top management decision making

5. System 5, policy: the direction of all activities for the system in focus, the power to monitor optimum balance between system 3 and system 4. The CEO of MTS could be expected to be holding the position. He, who provides the identity for KPI implementation project, is also the person to maintain internal stability among segments involved. It is to be noted that, the essential qualities of this project were reflected in later operation decision or budgeting. When the CEO represented these to a wider system, MTS group, system 5 are playing a role of system 1 in a meta-system.

When standard product was set-up and relative working framework were come into being (VSM model theoretically provides a much more clear definition), we moved on next to implementation, the 3rd stage of TSI. From where we also came back to the 5th ; 6th stages of SSM (showed in figure 4.2). As stressed by Dr. Michael C. Jackson himself, "You will never solve a problem, but you can improve it", the 3 phases of TSI present us a systemic cycle which illustrates the procedure of managerial activities optimization. This cycle will keep on rolling forward. Problem solving in real world is a 'Moebius strip", every improvement ends with a starting point of new problem. Hence, from TSI point of view, its 3 stages will be carried forward again and again.


TSI is a conceptual framework of applying system methodologies. It helps managers to have an overall consideration of the complexities involved; TSI also encourages the managers to use a set of system metaphors for problem investigation. As the example we discussed above, hard system thinking was difficult to explain how the difficulties occurs, while creative thinking present a rich picture of the whole situation.

Most important of all, TSI properly summarizes the strength and weakness of each methodology. Managers can choose appropriate managerial activities in the different stages of creative problem solving; meanwhile, TSI suggests 'dominant' and 'supportive' system focus concept, which we may also find the values in realities. Managers been involved in complicated situation need to put the greatest efforts on the key to resolve the mess, instead of 'carpet bombing'.

That is, in my opinion, 'creatively overview problems, but simplify stages to solve a problem'. To certain extend, applying use of standard product in KPI implementation can also be considered as an example of simplified problem solving. Thus, the internal resource can be well organized to achieve system harmonious. As we can refer to the implementation of our KPI report, both vendors and logistic assistant were released from being perplexed by obtaining relevant data information, and the higher level management were also supported by reasonable transportation efficiency analysis.

On the other hand, if we take TSI as a multi-vehicle manufacturer, it does produce vehicles for different purposes, but it is not a vehicle, which we are actually driving on the highway. That is why TSI is limited in practicality while claiming standing above other paradigms by itself. TSI demands commitments of multi-system methodologies while positioning them as a pigeonhole showed in figure 3.1, which may bring up the risks of misleading managerial activities. When the customer (managers in problem) comes to 'TSI vehicle manufacturer', the sales man tells them functions of each type of vehicles without telling them which one is better for their certain purpose, so the purchase may be wrong! According to KPI implementation, I still consider 'standard product', the key issue, is somehow a product of HST. The core contribution of TSI is focusing on the ideal model of operation 3 stages.

Further more, as a meta-methodology, it centres on the philosophy of adopting system methodologies, but tends to treat itself as a 'closed system' to outside circumstance. When the environment changes, there may be a chain-reaction in the whole system adjustment, and this kind of change can be economical costly and time consuming. For instance, when we applied using of standard product in KPI implementation, we also considered the limitation of this method, given that the cargo components could be pluralistic. In case that more spare parts and promotion materials are shipped together with finished goods, the definition of 'standard product' will then become useless. However, to amend the current operation cycle, it could also cost a lot of efforts to balance the relationship among system 1 to 4 displayed in VSM (Figure 5.1).

In a conclusion, users of TSI in problem solving must be aware of that, there is no one perfect model or methodology for managerial activities. The judgement of managerial activities normally falls in 2 ways: effectiveness and efficiency. That means, we respect TSI as a supportive guidance for creative problem solving, but we may not rely on it as the only sufficient tool all the time all the way.

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