Identifying and Understanding Problems and Opportunities

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Jenkins according to (Checkland, 1999, p. 140) states that the first step in the Systems Approach is “the recognition and formulation of the problem”. In a hard system approach we start from the assumption that there is a problem to be solve. We have used the phrase "problem or oppourtunity" in this topic to recognise the fact that the "problem" need not be a negative one, but coild represent a positive oppourtunity to develop a system. In the sense the "problem" is that we do not have a system to take advantage of this new oppourtunity.

The Systems Approach described in this knowledge area follows is predominantly a hard system approach. The Analysis to Proving parts of the approach assume a problem or oppourtunity has been agreed and an Engineered System is needs to be developed against that need.

The problem and oppourtunity part of the approach has some overlaps with soft system approaches. This is discussed in more detail below.

This section will summarize problem and opportunity exploration as described by (Edson, 2008) and others.

Topic Overview

According to (Blanchard and Fabrycky, 2006, pp. 55-56) defining a problem is sometimes the most important and difficult step. Defining a problem is asking the questions: What needs to be improved? What is the purpose of the system you want to define? Sometimes a problem is known as a “need.” In short, a system cannot be defined unless you can define what it is supposed to accomplish.

According to (Edson, 2008, pp. 26-29), some of the questions that need to be asked are as follows:

First, how difficult or well understood is the problem? Problems can be “tame,” “regular,” or “wicked.” The answer to this question will help define the tractability of the problem.

  • For tame problems, the solution may be well defined and obvious.
  • Regular problems are those that are encountered on a regular basis. Their solutions may not be obvious, so serious attention should be given to all aspects of them.
  • Wicked problems may not be solvable using obvious approaches, so detailed attention should be given to them.

The next factor that needs to be considered is who or what is impacted? There may be elements of the situation that are causing the problem, other elements that are impacted by the problem, and other elements that are just in the loop. Beyond these factors, what is the environment and what are the external factors that affect the problem?

Finally, what are the viewpoints to the problem? Does everyone think it is a problem? Perhaps there are conflicting viewpoints. All these viewpoints need to be defined. Persons affected by the system, stand to benefit from the system, or can be harmed by the system are called stakeholders. (Wasson, 2006, pp. 42-45) provides a comprehensive list of stakeholder types.

An important factor in defining the problem or opportunity is the scenario in which the prob-lem or opportunity will exist. (Armstrong, 2009, p. 1030) suggests two scenarios: The first is the descriptive scenario. This is the situation as it exists now. The second is the second is the normative scenario. That is the situation as it may be some time in the future. Armstrong suggests that this may be the most difficult part of the problem or opportunity (Armstrong uses the term issue) to define.

Linkages to other topics

Capturing of Stakeholder Needs in Systems Engineering.


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Primary References

ARMSTRONG, Jr., JAMES E., 2009. Issue Formualation. In: SAGE, A. P. & ROUSE, W. B. (eds.) Handbook of Systems Engineering and Management. Second ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

BLANCHARD, B. & FABRYCKY, W. J. 2006. Systems Engineering and Analysis, Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentise Hall.

CHECKLAND, P. 1999. Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, New York, John Wiley & Sons.

EDSON, R. 2008. Systems Thinking. Applied. A Primer. In: ASYST INSTITUTE (ed.). Arlington, VA: Analytic Services

Additional References

WASSON, C. S. 2006. System Analysis, Design, and Development, Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley & Sons.

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