Beginning to move from SSM Root Definitions, to Transformations, to Conceptual Models

Hello Systems Thinkers,

Today we are talking about Transformations and Teddy Bears.  Honestly, it’s not as camp as it sounds.

Teddy Bears

Last week we had a slightly eclectic session.  We spent some time beginning to think about the further Transformations we could identify that would be required to deliver on our Root Definition, but if I’m honest, we didn’t spend a lot of time doing that.  I had just finished reading an excellent book about ambiguity and wicked problems and how to manage them, so told the group a bit about it, and some of the things I’d found most interesting in it and and we discussed how they might be applied in our environment.  The guys who wrote the book use the concept of Teddy Bears and how we all metaphorically have them in the management methods we’re attached to.  They bring us comfort when we are faced with ambiguity.  They’re not always that helpful though, and so we need to learn how to let them go and embrace and even use ambiguity to our advantage. Here’s the book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heretics-Guide-Management-Harnessing-Ambiguity/dp/0994631413

I hope to write more about it, as it’s an excellent book and has a lot to offer us.

Then we took our Root Definition….

In the meantime though, I had better recount what we got up to in yesterday’s session.  We managed to stay focussed on task and started to decompose our Root Definition into the Transformations we felt we’d need to make happen to fulfil it.  We did that quite simply by reading thougth and then pulling out phrases that sounded like they could be Transformations.  To remind you, here’s the 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 derived key Transformations

We extracted the following as things we thought might be required Transformations:

  • provide an environment
    • supports relaxation
    • social interaction
  • provides hot and cold food & drinks
  • provides facilities to heat and eat home prepared food
  • recognises appropriate legal requirements
  • Increase revenues
  • Increase appeal of offices

After a bit of thought and discussion, we whittled this down to the following four Transformations:

Input Transformation Output
No food and drink for sale Make food and drink available for sale Food and drink for is sale
Uninviting space Create and maintain appealing space for dining, socialising and relaxing Inviting canteen space
Cold home prepared meals Heating facility for home prepared meals Hot home prepared meals
Canteen not operational Management function Canteen operational
No profit being generated from space Running a profitable canteen service Profit being generated from canteen space
Who needs to know grammar?  Systems Thinkers do!


We decided these may need some more work and revising, but that they were good enough to get us onto the next stage; that being creating conceptual models.  We checked back with the SSM process and decided to pick one of
Transformations and identify between 5 and 9 (7 plus or minus 2) activities we’d need to undertake to deliver the Transformation.  The SSM guidance we were referring to, reminded us that we should use “imperative verbs” when describing these activities.  This caused us to have to look up exactly what an imperative verb is.  Here’s a link:

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/imperative-verbs/

It’s basically a type of command.  Words like, Give, Clean, Do, Take.  This reminds me of when we learned about “Functional Requirements” when we studied the Holistic Requirements Model.  Functional Requirements need to be “Verb Nouns”.  So I think this is an area of commonality between the two approaches.  They are focussed on system function.  

This sparked some conversation and reflection of the usefulness of thinking in terms of functions in enabling innovation to take place.  By focussing on the underlying required function, you enable yourself to consider a whole array of different ways of delivering it.

Activities for our Conceptual Model

So, back to our task.  We chose to start with the “Make food and drink available for sale” Transformation.  We felt the following activities we’re essential to make it happen:

  • Obtain Food and Drink (might be ingredients, or it might be ready prepared meals.  We’re staying solution agnostic at this point)
  • Store food and drink
  • Prepare food and drink for sale and consumption
  • Display food and drink for sale
  • Take payment
  • Provide eating equipment (aka cutlery and crockery)
  • Clean stuff up

We ran out of time at this point, but agreed we’d try to turn these activities into a bubble and connector type conceptual model at the next session.

Second thoughts

Since then, I’ve been reflecting a little and wonder if we should have actually done this with our top level Root Definition. I mean, we probably should have built a conceptual model with the Transformations we identified there first, to make sure the sit together coherently and we’ve not missed anything. I think it would have been sensible to d that before jumping down into a sub-system and trying to define that.  We’ll jump back up a level next time and run through those steps.  This certainly is an iterative process.

OK, until next time, have a great weekend and take care,

Tim