It was a bit VUCA, wasn’t it? – Week 6

Written 10/06/2016

Welcome to VUCA

Well, that was an interesting week.  In the spirit of her interest in the concepts of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), Jean Boulton wasn’t able to get to us for our session on Thursday, so we had to respond by spontaneously improvising an alternative session.

Get your Wellies

The inspiration for what we should discuss came to me whilst I was watering the beds at my allotment on Wednesday evening.  The obvious system for us to start unpicking and understanding the allootments my plot is part of.  As we’re being anonymous here, let’s make up a name and call them Rabbit Hill Allotments.

What’s the Purpose of an Allotment?

We spent Thursday’s session returning to our favourite topic of trying to understand “purpose”.  We came up with 2 possible “18 Word Statements”.  They are:

“An allotment is a plot of land made available for individual, non-commercial gardening or growing food plants.”  (from Wikipedia).

“Community (council) owned accessible and fertile outside space for the growing of produce by those interested in doing so.”

A Path Through the Allotments

They probably need more work, and we will do that.  We’ve decided we will spend the coming weeks discussing the allotments.  Initially, we will gain an understanding of the Rabbit Hill Allotments as a system, and then move onto a case study looking at the situation that existed a few years ago in Anonymous Land when there was an acute shortage of allotment’s and waiting lists were bursting at the seams, resulting in much dissatisfaction and considerable coverage of the situation in the local press.  A wicked problem.  We’ll look at the problem and use systems approaches, probably SSM, to pull it apart and work out a solution.  Let’s see if we come up with the same solution the council did.

Welcome to Context Diagrams

Before we do that though, we’ll spend a couple of weeks further understanding the Rabbit Hill Allotments as a system and next week will draft a “Context Diagram” to understand the system boundary, stakeholders and inputs and outputs.  So, this week’s homework is to read Stuart Burge’s excellent paper on creating a Context Diagram, a copy of which is linked here.   Do have a go at drafting a diagram yourself in advance.

Something to think about is from what perspective we’re building the diagram and viewing the allotments, even in terms of the “purpose”.  I suggest we take the perspective of an allotment holder, as it’s probably closest to most of our experience, or ability to imagine.  I’ve not drawn a context diagram before, so don’t know how much it matters whether we take a certain perspective, or try to be objective in our view of the system.  I suppose it will make a difference to where we draw the boundary, but let’s find out!

Purposeful Functions

I think we may return to purpose and more specifically defining the sub purposes, or functions of the allotments the week after as I think we’ve more work to do on that.  Here are some “functions” I’ve just noted down:

Ground for growing

Water supply

Access to Site

Access to individual allotments

Car parking

Collection of rents

Allocating of allotments

Waiting list

Management of allotments

Supports social interaction

I don’t know whether they are necessarily all “functions” as some could be “means of delivering functions”, but we can discuss that and come up with a tight set of system functions.

Think back to Stuart Burge’s example of a toaster here and how he set out the functions / sub-purposes and then looked at different ways for delivering them.

It’s Raining

I wish you an excellent weekend.  Looking out of the window here, I can see it’s started to rain.  That’s very good news for me and my allotment.  I can have an evening off watering duties!  What a wonderful start to the weekend, for me at least.


2 thoughts on “It was a bit VUCA, wasn’t it? – Week 6”

  1. Very interesting blog.
    One comment on this particular entry, around ‘functions’: it is generally very useful (and I see you recognise this from later entries) to use an active ‘verb-noun’ form for functions or activities. What prompted this comment is the list in this entry:

    ‘Here are some “functions” I’ve just noted down:
    Ground for growing
    Water supply
    Access to Site
    Access to individual allotments
    Car parking
    Collection of rents
    Allocating of allotments
    Waiting list
    Management of allotments
    Supports social interaction’

    Not only are many of these not ‘verb-noun’, but as a result, they can be confused with being nounds or objects as distinct to functions e.g. “waiting list”. If I ‘verb-nounise’ the above I get something more like:
    grow-plants (or sustain-plants?)
    supply water
    allow access to site
    allow access to individual allotment
    park a car
    collect rent
    allocate an allotment
    maintain waiting list
    manage allotments (?)
    support social interaction

    Certainly not a final list, but more ‘function-oriented’ than the original list. Hope that helps.

    1. Thank you very much Julian. Very helpful comments and very good timing.

      We repeated and continued our discussion around types of requirements and functions in our session today and will bring this to bear on the allotment case next week.

      I’m beginning to see that Functional Requirements are much like the “Primary Activities” and the “Transformations” behind them as described in SSM.

      Something else I’ve found a little difficult with the allotment is defining top level functions and then sub-systems. Perhaps in this kind of system, the layers don’t work in a “hard” system type layered way. I suppose that might be why SSM doesn’t approach systems that way. Then again, it might just be that we’re not yet capable and confident enough to fully define our allotment system into sub-systems and sub-sub-systems.

      It’s a fascinating journey!

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