The systems approach to problem solving used a systems orientation to define problems and opportunities and develop solutions. Studying a problem and formulating a solution involve the following interrelated activities:
i. Defining of the problem.
ii. Gathering and analyzing data concerning the problem.
iii. Identification of alternative solutions.
iv. Evaluation of alternative solution.
v. Selection of the best alternative.
vi. Implementation of the solution.
vii. Post Implementation Review
1. Defining Problems and Opportunities
Problems and opportunities are identified in the first step of the systems approach. A problem can be defined as a basic condition that is causing undesirable results. An opportunity is a basic condition that presents the potential for desirable results. Symptoms must be separated from problems. Symptoms are merely signals of an underlying cause or problem.
Symptom: Sales of a company‘s products are declining. Problem: Sales persons are losing orders because they cannot get current information on product prices and availability. Opportunity: We could increase sales significantly if sales persons could receive instant responses to requests for price quotations and product availability.
Sometimes one may confuse the symptoms or the exhibition of a behavior to be a problem but actually it may only be a symptom of a larger malaise. It may just exhibit the behavior of a larger phenomenon. It is vital to drill deep into an issue and clearly understand the problem rather than having a superficial understanding of the problem. One must appreciate that this in the initial stage of problem solving and if the problem itself is not correctly diagnosed then the solution will obviously be wrong. Systems approach is therefore used to understand the problem in granular detail to establish requirement and objectives in-depth. By using the systems approach the problem will be analyzed in its totality with inherent elements and their interrelationships and therefore this detailed analysis will bring out the actual problem and separate out the symptom from it.
2. Gathering and analyzing data concerning the problem.
Systems thinking is to try to find systems, subsystems, and components of systems in any situation your are studying. This viewpoint ensures that important factors and their interrelationships are considered. This is also known as using a systems context, or having a systemic view of a situation. I example, the business organization or business process in which a problem or opportunity arises could be viewed as a system of input, processing, output, feedback, and control components. Then to understand a problem and save it, you would determine if these basic system functions are being properly performed.
The sales function of a business can be viewed as a system. You could then ask: Is poor sales performance (output) caused inadequate selling effort (input), out-of-date sales procedures (processing), incorrect sales information (feedback), or inadequate sales management (control)? Figure illustrates this concept.
3. Identification of alternative solutions.
There are usually several different ways to solve any problem or pursue any opportunity. Jumping immediately from problem definition to a single solution is not a good idea. It limits your options and robs you of the chance to consider the advantages and disadvantages of several alternatives. You also lose the chance to combine the best points of several alternative solutions.
Where do alternative solutions come from/ experience is good source. The solutions that have worked, or at least been considered in the past, should be considered again. Another good source of solutions is the advice of others, including the recommendations of consultants and the suggestions of expert systems. You should also use your intuition and ingenuity to come up with a number of creative solutions. These could include what you think is an ideal solution. The, more realistic alternatives that recognize the limited financial, personnel, and other resources of most organizations could be developed. Also, decision support software packages can be used to develop and manipulate financial, marketing, and other business operations. This simulation process can
help you generate a variety of alternative solutions. Finally, don‘t forget that ―doing nothing‖ about
a problem or opportunity is a legitimate solution, with its own advantages and disadvantages.
4. Evaluating Alternate Solutions
Once alternative solutions have been developed, they must be evaluated so that the best solution can be identified. The goal of evaluation is to determine how well each alternative solution meets your business and personal requirements. These requirements are key characteristics and capabilities that you feed are necessary for your personal or business success.
If you were the sales manager of a company, you might develop very specific requirements for solving the sales-related information problems of your salespeople. You would probably insist that any computer-based solution for your sales force be very reliable and easy to use. You might also require that any proposed solution have low start-up costs, or have minimal operating costs compared to present sales processing methods.
Then you would develop evaluation criteria and determine how well each alternative solution meets these criteria. The criteria you develop will reflect how you previously defined business and personal requirements. For example, you will probably develop criteria for such factors as start-up costs, operating costs, ease of use, and reliability. Criteria may be ranked or weighted, based on their importance in meeting your requirements.
5. Selecting the Best Solution
Once all alternative solutions have been evaluated, you can being the process of selecting the best solution. Alternative solutions can be compared to each other because they have been evaluated using the same criteria.
Alternatives with a low accuracy evaluation (an accuracy score less than 10), or a low overall evaluation (an overall score less than 70) should be rejected. Therefore, alternative B for sales data entry is rejected, and alternative A, the use of laptop computers sales reps, is selected.
6. Designing and Implementing Solution
Once a solution has been selected, it must be designed and implemented. You may have to depend on other business end users technical staff to help you develop design specifications and an implementation plan. Typically, design specifications might describe the detailed characteristics and capabilities of the people, hardware, software, and data resources and information system activities needed a new system. An implementation plan specifies the resources, activities, and timing needed for proper implementation. For example, the following items might be included in the design specifications and implementation plan for a computer-based sales support system:
• Types and sources of computer hardware, and software to be acquired for the sales reps.
• Operating procedures for the new sales support system.
• Training of sales reps and other personnel.
• Conversion procedures and timetable for final implementation.
7. Post Implementation Review
The final step of the systems approach recognizes that an implemented solution can fail to solve the problem for which it was developed. The real world has a way of confounding even the most well- designed solutions. Therefore, the results of implementing a solution should be monitored and evaluated. This is called a postimple-implemented. The focus of this step is to determine if the implemented solution has indeed helped the firm and selected subsystems meet their system objectives. If not, the systems approach assumes you will cycle back to a previous step and make another attempt to find a workable solution.
A Systems Approach Example
Let us assume that A is the coach of the Indian cricket team. Let us also assume that the objective that A has been entrusted with is to secure a win over the touring Australian cricket team. The coach uses a systems approach to attain this objective. He starts gathering information about his own team.
Through systems approach he views his own Indian team as a system whose environment would include the other team in the competition, umpires, regulators, crowd and media. His system, i.e., team itself maybe conceptualized as having two subsystems, i.e., players and supporting staff for players. Each subsystem would have its own set of components/entities like the player subsystem will have openers, middle order batsmen, fast bowlers, wicket keeper, etc. The supporting staff subsystem would include bowling coach, batting coach, physiotherapist, psychologist, etc. All these entities would indeed have a bearing on the actual outcome of the game. The coach adopts a systems approach to determine the playing strategy that he will adopt to ensure that the Indian side wins. He analyses the issue in a stepwise manner as given below:
Step 1: Defining the problem-In this stage the coach tries to understand the past performance of his team and that of the other team in the competition. His objective is to defeat the competing team. He realizes that the problem he faces is that of losing the game. This is his main problem.
Step 2: Collecting data-The coach employs his supporting staff to gather data on the skills and physical condition of the players in the competing team analyzing past performance data, viewing television footage of previous games, making psychological profiles of each player. The support staff analyses the data and comes up with the following observations:
• Both teams use an aggressive strategy during the period of power play. The competing Australian team uses the opening players to spearhead this attack. However, recently the openers have had a personal fight and are facing interpersonal problems.
• The game is being played in Mumbai and the local crowd support is estimated to be of some value amounting to around fifty runs. Also the crowd has come to watch the Indian team win. A loss here would cost the team in terms of morale.
• The umpires are neutral and are not intimidated large crowd support but are lenient towards sledging.
Step 3: Identifying alternatives-Based on the collected data the coach generates the following alternate strategies:
• Play upon the minds of the opening players of the competitors highlighting their personal differences using sledging alone.
• Employ defensive tactics during power play when the openers are most aggressive and not using sledging.
• Keep close in fielders who would sledge and employ the best attacking bowlers of the Indian team during the power play.
Step 4: Evaluating alternatives-After having generated different alternatives, the coach has to select only one. The first alternative may lead to loss of concentration on the part of openers and result in breakthroughs. However, there is a chance that the interpersonal differences between the two openers may have already been resolved before they come to the field and in such a case this strategy will fail. The second strategy provides a safer option in the sense that it will neutralize the aggressive game of the openers but there is limited chance of getting breakthroughs. The third option of employing aggressive close in fielders to play upon the internal personal differences of the openers and at the same time employing the best bowlers may lead to breakthroughs and may also restrict the aggressive openers.
Step 5: Selecting the best alternative-The coach selects the third alternative as it provides him with the opportunity of neutralizing the aggressive playing strategy of the openers as well as increases the chances of getting breakthrough wickets.
Step 6: Implementing and monitoring-The coach communicates his strategy to his players and support staff, instructs support staff to organize mock sessions and tactics to be employed to make the strategy a success. The players and support staff performance is monitored the coach on a regular basis to ensure that the strategy is employed perfectly.