Model Based Systems Thinking


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This is an adjunct to the current wave of interest in using systems thinking as a means to address sustainability issues.

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Model Based Systems Thinking

  1. 1. A Model-Based Systems Approach To Global Issues Rob Wagner KP Services Unlimited August 1, 2011AbstractThe world is facing many issues these days. These issues range from climate change to energyavailability to economic sustainability and the global financial crisis. A deep understanding ofthe issues is important because it helps us to begin to contemplate and effectively plan thepaths needed and the effects they will have for societies of today and beyond. However, inmost cases, this understanding is limited because the methodologies involved concentrate onthe “parts” rather than on the “whole”, taking a systems approach to the problems. Thissystems approach includes identifying the views of interdependencies, learning how to view thelarger system(s) and their interfaces and create futures that are desired, i.e., develop therequirements set to drive the system. This paper recognizes that challenges exist andintroduces proven methodologies and tools that can provide the ability to objectively view thesystem as it is and prompt strategies that will effectively address those issues.IntroductionThere is a growing movement of applying systems thinking to problems. Systems thinking is theprocess of encouraging one to see how things influence one another within a whole and theinteraction between parts rather than isolated parts. These interactions can result with positiveand negative ripple effects that can move through the entire system. Many authors andorganizations are promoting the use of systems thinking as a paradigm to identifying andsolving the world’s problems. And participants are becoming enthusiasts of systems thinkingbecause the old way “ain’t” working. Many sectors present difficult challenges for change, theparticipants are fragmented, and the competitiveness –even suspicion- amongst them, is justpart of the way business is typically done.The concepts that are espoused by systems thinking can be found in tried and true processesthat systems engineers have utilized successfully for many years in the Defense, aerospace andhigh technology industries. The concept of a system, be it a Space Station Power System or aSchool district are the same: they address higher order needs, they are driven by ever refinedrequirements and objectives, they interface with the outside environment, they have certainfunctions that implement those requirements, and architecture to implement the functions, anevaluation of risk and verification and validation that indeed the requirements will be metsatisfactory. In recent years, the use of models for defining these systems is increasing, becausethe advantages of such methodologies over conventional means. 1
  2. 2. Use of Models in Systems ThinkingA Model-based paradigm is an ideal way to represent systems thinking. This methodology canbe characterized as the collection of related processes, methods, and tools used to support thedefinition of a system in a “model-based” or “model-driven” context. Model-based processeshave a long history in the software industry with very short release cycles and have beenevolved into a method that can be used for all kinds of technical developments and problemsolving scenarios. There is the recognition that interdependencies are rapidly increasingsystems and are becoming extremely complex. To be able to handle these challengingsituations, the approach of Model-Based processes is utilized. Starting with the problemdefinition, the requirements can be traced throughout the whole development process withthe assistance of Systems Engineering tools, making the necessary steps much easier.Model ProcessThe following figure is a representation of the methodology that would be used in modeling asystem. The terminology may change slightly depending on the problem being analyzed, butthe basic concept remains the same. 1. Customer and Needs- Who is the Customer and What are Their Needs? Customer- refers to a current or potential buyer or user of the products or services of an individual or organization, consumes the product and determines its values. 2
  3. 3. 2. Vision Statement- outlines what the organization wants to be, or how it wants the world in which it operates to be. It concentrates on the future. It is a source of inspiration. It provides clear decision-making criteria. 3. Mission Statement- describes the fundamental purpose of the organization. It defines the customer and the critical processes. It informs of the desired level of performance. 4. Requirements/Objectives-statements that identify a necessary attribute, capability, characteristic, or quality of a system in order for it to have value and utility to a user. Must be able to be measurable and verifiable 5. Environment- Represents the stakeholders (entities with a vested interest in the system) and customers and their interrelationships with the system. These interrelationships help define the context of the system. 6. Functional Model- also called an activity model or process model, is a graphical representation of the functions within a defined scope. The purposes of the functional model are to describe the functions and processes, assist with discovery of information needs, help identify opportunities, and establish a basis for determining product and service costs. 7. Architecture Model- the means of depicting the implementation of the processes and functions that are provided in the functional model. Usually it represents the hardware, software and “peopleware” of the System. 8. Risk Management- identification, assessment, and prioritization of risks followed by coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor and control the probability and/or impacts of resulting events. 9. Verification- reviewing, inspecting or testing, in order to establish and document that the system meets all of the driving requirements or top level need.System Definition and Implementation DefinitionModels can be applied to describe the system itself as well as the implementation of the systemdevelopment. In Senge’s book, The Necessary Revolution, he describes the collaborationbetween Coca Cola and the World Wildlife Fund to examine water management issuessurrounding the production of the Coke product. The process was to identify the Coke “waterfootprint”, amount of water necessary to produce a given amount of product and then identifyways to reduce that footprint. The modeling effort could be used to define the individualplants, group of plants or even regional areas and how these plants behave as systemsthemselves. The modeling effort could have been also used to define the collaborativeprocesses necessary to understand the problem and implement the program. Each model beinga separate entity in and of itself could be integrated into one database, and how the effects ofthe brick and mortar system definition and behavior would affect the water managementprogram and vice versa. Programmatics as well as systemic behavior can be captured by themodel paradigm. 3
  4. 4. Modeling ToolsAs a result of the proliferation of systems modeling, many tools exist on the market, with awide range of capabilities. These tools can use a variety of views to define the system, andshow all the linkages among the elements. Team members can easily determine the status ofthe analysis as well as the consistency and completeness of the system definition throughintegrated interactive views. These tools provide the project team a clearly defined systemdefinition language to capture and communicate all aspects of the system definition. Changesthat occur can be analyzed in real time, with “what if” scenarios can be executed to determinepossible outcomes. Inconsistencies among elements can be readily identified. Automatic reportgenerators produce consistent, up-to-the-minute documents, views, and other work products.Additionally, simulations can be run from the functional models to examine consistency andsystem behavior.SummaryThe implementation of systems thinking to complex problems is rewarding but daunting. Thebenefits of using systems thinking are immense. The methodologies and tools as well asexperience base for applying systems thinking to problem solving exist as a result of a richhistory of systems engineering methodology, tools and experience. Utilization of such resourceswould immensely help in creating the systems thinking environment. Savings in time, moneyand the benefits of detailed, consistent and unified system definitions would accrue by usingModel-Based Systems Thinking. 4