Systems approach to problem solving

The systems approach to problem solving used a systems orientation to define problems and opportunities and develop solutions.  Studying a problem and formulating a solution involve the following interrelated activities:

  1. Recognize and define a problem or opportunity using systems thinking.
  2. Develop and evaluate alternative system solutions.
  3. Select the system solution that best meets your requirements.
  4. Design the selected system solution.
  5. Implement and evaluate the success of the designed system.

1) Defining problems and opportunities

Problems and opportunities are identified in the first step of the systems approach. A problem can be defined as a basic condition that is causing undesirable results. An opportunity is a basic condition that presents the potential for desirable results. Symptoms must be separated from problems. Symptoms are merely signals of an underlying cause or problem.

Example;

Symptom: Sales of a company’s products are declining. Problem: Sales persons are losing orders because they cannot get current information on product prices and availability. Opportunity: We could increase sales significantly if sales persons could receive instant responses to requests for price quotations and product availability.

2) Systems thinking

Systems thinking is to try to find systems, subsystems, and components of systems in any situation your are studying. This viewpoint ensures that important factors and their interrelationships are considered. This is also known as using a systems context, or having a systemic view of a situation. I example, the business organization or business process in which a problem or opportunity arises could be viewed as a system of input, processing, output, feedback, and control components. Then to understand a problem and save it, you would determine if these basic system functions are being properly performed.

Example;

The sales function of a business can be viewed as a system. You could then ask: Is poor sales performance (output) caused by inadequate selling effort (input), out-of-date sales procedures (processing), incorrect sales information (feedback), or inadequate sales management (control)? Figure  illustrates this concept.

3) Developing alternate solutions

There are usually several different ways to solve any problem or pursue any opportunity. Jumping immediately from problem definition to a single solution is not a good idea. It limits your options and robs you of the chance to consider the advantages and disadvantages of several alternatives. You also lose the chance to combine the best points of several alternative solutions.

Where do alternative solutions come from/ experience is good source. The solutions that have worked, or at least been considered in the past, should be considered again. Another good source of solutions is the advice of others, including the recommendations of consultants and the suggestions of expert systems. You should also use your intuition and ingenuity to come up with a number of creative solutions. These could include what you think is an ideal solution. The, more realistic alternatives that recognize the limited financial, personnel, and other resources of most organizations could be developed. Also, decision support software packages can be used to develop and manipulate financial, marketing, and other business operations. This simulation process can help you generate a variety of alternative solutions. Finally, don’t forget that “doing nothing” about a problem or opportunity is a legitimate solution, with its own advantages and disadvantages.

4) Evaluating alternate solutions

Once alternative solutions have been developed, they must be evaluated so that the best solution can be identified. The goal of evaluation is to determine how well each alternative solution meets your business and personal requirements. These requirements are key characteristics and capabilities that you feed are necessary for your personal or business success.

Example;

If you were the sales manager of a company, you might develop very specific requirements for solving the sales-related information problems of your salespeople. You would probably insist that any computer-based solution for your sales force be very reliable and easy to use. You might also require that any proposed solution have low start-up costs, or have minimal operating costs compared to present sales processing methods.

Then you would develop evaluation criteria and determine how well each alternative solution meets these criteria. The criteria you develop will reflect how you previously defined business and personal requirements. For example, you will probably develop criteria for such factors as start-up costs, operating costs, ease of use, and reliability.

Criteria may be ranked or weighted, based on their importance in meeting your requirements.

5) Selecting the best solution

Once all alternative solutions have been evaluated, you can being the process of selecting the best solution. Alternative solutions can be compared to each other because they have been evaluated using the same criteria.

Example;

Alternatives with a low accuracy evaluation (an accuracy score less than 10), or a low overall evaluation (an overall score less than 70) should be rejected.

Therefore, alternative B for sales data entry is rejected, and alternative A, the use of laptop computers by sales reps, is selected.

6) Desingning and implementing solution

Once a solution has been selected, it must be designed and implemented. You may have to depend on other business end users technical staff  to help you develop design specifications and an implementation plan. Typically, design specifications might describe the detailed characteristics and capabilities of the people, hardware, software, and data resources and information system activities needed by a new system. An implementation plan specifies the resources, activities, and timing needed for proper implementation. For example, the following items might be included in the design specifications and implementation plan for a computer-based sales support system:

  • Types and sources of computer hardware, and software to be acquired for the sales reps.
  • Operating procedures for the new sales support system.
  • Training of sales reps and other personnel.
  • Conversion procedures and timetable for final implementation.

7) Post implementation review

The final step of the systems approach recognizes that an implemented solution can fail to solve the problem for which it was developed. The real world has a way of confounding even the most well-designed solutions. Therefore, the results of implementing a solution should be monitored and evaluated. This is called a postimple-implemented. The focus of this step is to determine if the implemented solution has indeed helped the firm and selected subsystems meet their system objectives. If not, the systems approach assumes you will cycle back to a previous step and make another attempt to find a workable solution.

About Abey Francis

Abey Francis is the founder of MBAKnol - A Blog about Management Theories and Practices - and he's always happy to share his passion for innovative management practices. You can found him on Google+ and Facebook. If you’d like to reach him, send him an email to: [email protected]

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