Hello Systems Thinkers,
This is a fairly short post, just to wrap up on the SSM work. We finished with it quite a while back and have been busy exploring a variety of systems ideas and concepts, and in particular, have been dipping our toe into cybernetics and the Viable System Model. It’s good stuff.
For the moment though, I just wanted to write a note to complete the work on our SSM models. If you recall, the last post I wrote on SSM was a summary of the conceptual model building we’d been doing. Here’s the post:
Building the models was very much a learning process. We learned about building models, but also about the thing we were studying and thinking about, the canteen. The process helped us to reframe our thinking and understanding and we gained a number of insights into functions that would be required to run the canteen along the way. This was helped, by us showing the work we had done to the canteen management team, who pointed out areas where our thinking was incomplete. They also found the experience helpful and highlighted several areas to them they had not considered.
All new and improved Root Definition
Because our understanding of the situation changed, we decided to revisit our original Root Definition to see if was still appropriate. It wasn’t , and so we modified it to reflect our new understanding.
First of all though, here is our previous Root Definition:
“A facility and service owned and operated by the Local Authority through their employees, to provide an environment that supports relaxation and social interaction and provides nutritional food at lunchtimes that satisfies the need for affordable hot and cold food and drinks and facilities to heat and eat home prepared food, which recognises appropriate legal requirements within the existing canteen space within the building, in the belief that doing so will have a positive effect on wellbeing and motivation of the workers in the building and also enhance revenues coming to the Local Authority by making a profit from selling food and drink and also by making the building a more attractive place for prospective rent paying tenants to locate their operations.”
And here is our updated version:
“A facility and service owned and operated by the Local Authority through their employees, to provide an environment that supports relaxation and social interaction and provides nutritional food that satisfies the need for affordable hot and cold food and drinks during regular office hours and facilities to heat and eat home prepared food available 24/7, as well as providing opportunities for local charities to supply and showcase produce and providing training opportunities for people with learning difficulties which recognises appropriate legal requirements within the existing canteen space within the building, in the belief that doing so will have a positive effect on wellbeing and motivation of the workers in the building and also enhance revenues by making the building a more attractive place for prospective rent paying tenants to locate their operations, whilst the canteen facility’s direct revenue impact must be cost neutral.”
You can see we’ve added elements about the community focus of the canteen, using local charities as suppliers, and offering training and employment opportunities to people with learning difficulties, as well as defining the financial performance expectation it operates in.
Again, what stood out about SSM process is how iterative it is. We came back to iterate the Root Definition, and in doing that, realised our Conceptual Models were not complete. We hadn’t considered the need for the canteen to market its offering. It was helpful that this process of iteration and development drew this out.
Our new and final models
So, we returned to our top level Conceptual Model and incorporated a “marketing” node. Here is the revised top level model:
You can see the new marketing node, number 6, in the middle of the model. And here is the Conceptual Model for the marketing function:
The end of the SSM road……..for now.
This brings our SSM story to a close for now. The next steps in the process would have been to compare the models to the reality to identify gaps in the organisation and things that could be changed or improved. We did have some conversations with the canteen management about this and discussed areas for improvement with them, but given this was a case study and not a piece of work they commissioned from us, we were only able to go so far.
You can’t beat an occasional CATWOE
We certainly learned a lot on this journey and will be using SSM again. Indeed, I have been using it frequently in my own work. In particular, I find the CATWOE mnemonic very helpful when starting on a new project and trying to state what the purpose is. That’s part of the beauty of SSM I think. It is a 7 step process, but you can actually take most of those steps on their own and use them independently and get helpful results. It’s like a bag of several tools you can pick and choose from, rather than a single approach. Although, of course, you can run all of the way through the process if the situation allows, and warrants it.