Tightening up our SSM Root Definition

Hello Systems Thinkers,

Before jumping into SSM Root Definitions and what we’ve been doing with ours in the group this past two weeks I thought I say something about our new friends, the Seven Samurai.

The Seven Samurai ride into action…..

After our fantastic session with Warren Quinn, we’ve been putting what he told us into action.  Outside of the group, a few of us have been using the Seven Samurai model he introduced us to in projects we’re working on.  It’s really helpful.  A great way to put some perspective and structure into our thinking about a problem situation and distinguishing between the problem, its context, the intervention and the systems required to deliver the intervention and then sustain it. And then, any unintended problems the solution might create.  It’s great.  Very simple, yet very powerful.  To jog your memory, as well as the diagram at the top of teh page, here are the slides i found online.  It’s well worth browsing through them.

us-government-non-defense-the-seven-samurai-of-systems-engineering-dealing-with-the-complexity-of-7-interrelated-systems-james-martin

Since the write up of Warren’s session we’ve had two STA regular sessions. Both continuing with work on the canteen Root Definition.  By some twist of fate, only half the group could make it last week, and then only half this week.  The funny thing being that completely different people made it each week, so we had fun this week picking up and carrying on with what the others had done the previous week.

Back to our Root Definition

To remind you, here is the Root Definition (RD) we came up with previously:

“A system owned by the Local Authority and operated by 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.”

At this point, I ought to highlight that we are doing this without consulting the Local Authority, so the views are purely our own.  If we were consultants doing this for real, it would be absolutely essential to spend a good deal of time getting to the bottom of the Worldviews of the stakeholders, but the reality in this situation is it’s not practical and so we are making it up.  So, our assertions, are simply that, our best guesses.

What happened last week?

Here are some notes Lee kindly made after the session last week (I wasn’t there):

Re. the root definition, we discussed reflecting the Local Authority worldview – coming from the angle that we’re placing ourselves in their shoes as the owner of the building.  

“With a view to…”

  • Maintain a productive workforce
  • Tick a required box as an building operator to offer this type of service, but do it at minimum cost
  • Working within a set budget and ideally generating additional income for the Council
  • Maintain Castlewood offices as an attractive office space for leasing tenants.

We talked about needing to ideally identify the most important one of those, and we felt that “Maintain Castlewood offices as an attractive office space for leasing tenants” is ultimately the main driver behind the local Authority’s decision to use that space as a canteen (obviously ignoring the meals on wheels).”

They continued on to begin to discuss the key Transformations required to fulfill the purpose, but for now, let’s stick with the RD.

Warren’s tip – “..in the belief that…”

One really nice tip Warren gave us when he came is to us the expression “….in the belief that” before stating the worldview in the Root Definition (RD).  If you look back at theoriginal RD you’ll see we didn’t really explicitly state the W from which it’s proposed.  Warren’s tip is a good one and we found it helpful.

Thinking about Worldviews

This week looked at the potential Ws the group proposed last week.  Here they are, along with our thoughts:

  • Maintain a productive workforce

We agreed this may well be a strong motivating factor behind the Local Authority, the building owner, landlord and principal employer of staff in the building providing the staff canteen.  We didn’t feel there was much more we could add.

  • Tick a required box as an building operator to offer this type of service, but do it at minimum cost

We were less sure about this one.  As far as we know, there is no legal obligation to provide a canteen, and given the other motivations above and below, we didn’t think this one had much leverage.

  • Working within a set budget and ideally generating additional income for the LocaL Authority

We liked this.  It’s certainly imaginable the landlord see the canteen as a way f bringing in additional income.  I suspect the reality of the situation is it doesn’t make them a lot of money, but we don’t know and it’s not unreasonable to think it turns a profit..

  • Maintain Castlewood offices as an attractive office space for leasing tenants.

This is an interesting one.  Again, it’s actually the same motivation as above, one focussed on bringing in revenue.  However, it’s approach is to do so obliquely.  I like it, and again, you can imagine that the landlord maintain the canteen as they think it will be attractive to the public sector organisations they seek as tenants

Time to combine……

So, how do we incorporate this into our RD.  How about adding this statement at the end:

.”…..in the belief that providing the facility 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.”

Well, that’s a bit of a mouthful, but I think it’s helpful.  When we come to start building our RDs for the “subsystems”, and then our conceptual models, this will lead us to need to include functions relating to things like monitoring of competition, pricing mechanisms, etc.  We might have implicitly assumed we had to do these things, and in a simple everyday example like a canteen it’s not a problem, but when we get into more complex services, where there is greater ambiguity of the purpose, being comprehensive and explicit in this way can only help.

…and then integrate

And now to integrate that into the RD, which I’ve also tweaked a little.  Now hold your breath, here we go:

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.

Yes, I think that’s enough for now.  I’m sure you need to recover too, after reading that.

Any views???

I’d be very interested to hear from any seasoned SSM practitioners out there what they think of this.  Have we got it about right?  Could we have improved it in any way? Have we missed something?

In the remainder of the session we carried on with defining some Transformations.  We’ve more to do on that though, and I’m tired, so I think I’ll leave writing that up until we’ve done more work on it next week.

Enjoy your weekend,

Tim