Hello Systems Thinkers,
As promised last week, here is a post containing an blog comment and then email dialogue I had with STA friend and regular commenter Julian Johnson. If you want to look him up, here is a link to Juian’s LinkedIn profile and here is a link to the website for his consultancy business, holistem.
The conversation is about what a “Systemigram” ought to be, and how that differs from an “Information Model”. Julian has very kindly put together some slides showing how the canteen Systemigram we produced is actually an Information model, and another set of slides showing what a Systemigram might actually look like. So, here are Julian’s slides showing how:
- The canteen set-up might be expressed as an Information Model – here
- The canteen situation might be expressed as a Systemigram – here
And here is the dialogue we’ve had. It’s well worth reading. Thanks Julian.
Comment Julian left on STA blog week 27 on 3rd December 2016. Here.
Tim, another great post from you, very interesting and thought provoking. A couple of (again I hope constructive) observations:
- On the nature of your systemigram: When I look at what you have above, this seems to be a less a systemigram (Boardman et al), and more a conventional information model (IM). So what is a conventional IM? Basically it identifies concepts in the domain of interest, and declarative relationships between them. It isn’t really about influence relationships, which is arguably the essence of a systemigram. In fact, if I take your diagram, and replace ellipses by rectangles, and arrows by (depending on notation) lines with a directed annotation label (UML class diag) or labelled ‘lollypop’ line (STEP modelling language), AND ellipse-in-ellipse by the appropriate supertype-subtype notation (open triangle notation in UML class diag), I’m about there. Its not that the diagram is wrong in any way, (in fact it appears very useful), it just (to me) seems to have moved from a systemigram underlying paradigm, to something else (IM paradigm).
- Pick your time comment: Cannot agree more. It often seems to higher up the organisation you go, the less attention span we find (rightly or wrongly), and the more things have to be reduced to primary colours. We’re talking seriously low end of ‘magic number 7 +/- 2’, if you know what I mean. However, in my experience, when getting something that can appear complicated / complex in a single diagram over, it is better not to through the whole diagram at the audience at step 1, and then explain all the elements, but more to build up the diagram on the blank paper / screen, so you end up with the whole picture, but you have brought an audience along, step by step. In fact, this is partly why some tools, like Insight Maker, have a storyboard capability…
Hope that helps…
Tim’s email response on 5th December 2016
I do appreciate these comments!
I must admit that my head is now in my hands though (metaphorically). I couldn’t quite get Rich Pictures, so I had a go a Systemigrams, and it turns out I’ve not “got” them either.
I wonder, reading your explanation, are Rich Pictures and a Systemigrams much the same thing, or rather serve a similar purpose form a similar perspective, but obviously produced with different media in a different environment?
Julian’s email response on 5th December 2016
“my head is now in my hands though”. Oh dear.
“I wonder, reading your explanation are Rich Pictures and Systemigrams much the same thing, or rather serve a similar purpose from a similar perspective, but are obviously produced with different media in a different environment?”
If I can interpret your question, there appear to be two parts to it:
- That Rich Pictures and systemigrams are much the same thing, serving similar purposes and/or from a similar perspective;
- They are produced with different media (notations) in different environments (tools).
First to respond to 2:
They could indeed be produced with the same tool, for instance, pen and paper / flipchart etc. (But so could any diagram regardless how ‘well formed’.) In terms of computer based tools, it would then start to depend how flexible the tool is. Basically both Rich Pictures and systemigrams could be said to be essentially node-and-link diagrams (essentially a visualisation of a ‘graph’, in maths of computer science speak). However, systemigrams appear to be stricter to the node-and-link paradigm, than Rich pictures, because they are essentially about one item (node, semantically a concept) being linked to one or more other items (nodes) via links (representing relationships). Systemigrams have another type of relationship, type-of, represented by the ellipsi inside another ellipse layout. Anyway, any computer based tool worth its weight that allows you to put diagrams together will have some awareness of the underlying ‘paradigm’. For instance, on a data flow tool, it would not allow you to connect a flow line directly to another flow line, only a flow line to a process bubble, or a process bubble to a flow line etc. We can see this when we use Systemitool, which only allows certain diagram constructs to be connected to certain others. I guess the nearest we can get to a rich picture tool is only something like powerpoint that generically has a large pallet of icons, symbols and various connector types, but is pretty free about where you put things.
As to 1:
Rich pictures and Systemigrams are similar to each other in that they are both pictorial views that a) help a group of people represent and communicate an understanding of a domain and b) are both used for early phases tackling complex / complicated or chaotic systems, often social technical, where ‘conventional’ systems development approaches tend to struggle. However, they differ (as representations) in that a) systemigrams are rather more constrained than rich pictures in the strict node-link metaphor above and b) rich pictures allow carte blanche in types of symbols, AND how they are placed. For instance, having a symbol representing a group of people labelled ‘project management’ and a second symbol representing a group of people labelled ‘engineering’ in some proximity on the diagram, and a drawing of a brick wall between them usefully communicates: these groups don’t talk. There is no explicit node-link construct, it is the simple placement that we see as a pattern.
My comment below: “…identifies concepts in the domain of interest, and declarative relationships between them. It isn’t really about influence relationships…” is the essence in a sense of difference between an IM view, and a systemigram view. This email is already too long, but if it helps [for your understanding], I’ll happy try find / create some examples to try to illustrate my expectation of the difference of typical IM and systemigram examples.
Julian’s follow up Email on 12th December 2016
I’ve backed up from the week 27 canteen ‘systemigram’, given my observation that it appears closer to an information model than an systemigram, by building up an information model applicable to a canteen/ meals on wheels domain.
Attached is the result, which is basically a step by step build-up of a fledgling information model. I say fledgling as:
- I’ve not been explicit about capturing either requirements of what we are trying to achieve with such a model, nor with the use cases;
- I’ve not elaborated the nature of relationship ordinality (one-to-many, many-to-many etc)
- I’ve not elaborated many attributes that one would need to make the model ‘useful’.
However, you will see by the time you get the slide 8 which has the ‘full’ model (subject to caveats about AND any entity should have a definition) that the result is very similar (ignoring boxes rather than rectangles for concepts/entities, and straight versus arcs for relationships, and subtype representation is different) that there is much similarity; indeed I then hand marked with red ticks my paper copy of your systemigram, and may be 80% of items in your diagram are ticked (=covered).
In a separate response I’ll look at how my expectation on a systemigram would actually focus on how well (or poorly) a given canteen works (or doesn’t work) and it part why (or works or doesn’t work).
Hope this is of value to you… let me know!
Julian’s final email on 13th December 2016
Not hampered by tackling a real example, I’ve just tried to speculate a potential canteen and some of its issues. Attached is a slideset, where two of the slides are a prose explanation of some aspects that are ‘challenging’, and then the build-up of systemigram fragments. As you will see in the last slide, I came across some interesting issues, which probably means I need to (completely) read Boardman’s book properly, rather than just wing it. Anyway, I learned something by doing this anyway…
Hope it perhaps moves you a step closer to practical systemigrams, or at least, the distinction of systemigram to (say) information model?
Let me know if you go something (anything) out of this material…
Julian Johnson, BSc, PhD, CSEP MINCOSE
Director, Chief Scientist, Holistem Ltd.
+44 1254 209421
+44 797 442 8697