Hard and Soft System Methodology

Introduction

There are two systems thinking namely hard and soft which are used to solve the problems. Peter Checkland (1981) suggested that Hard system thinking which is identified in system engineering and system analysis has the starting point in structured problems and assumes that the objectives of the system are clear and stable. This system thinking has a formulated way to solve the real world problems. On the other hand, Soft system thinking which attempts to structure a debate about actions in problem solving has the start point in ‘unstructured’ problems within social activity systems.

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Fixitup Toys limited is a manufacturer of toys which produces outdoor and indoor games, self-assembly models and toy soldiers. There has been some concern about their rising cost of manufacture and consideration has been given to the outsourcing of some or part of the production. The vision of the Fixitup senior management team is to optimize manufacture processing to produce the highest quality and most advanced products by using E-business conforming to the lean manufacturing principles and integrating into their established QAD Application.

In order to achieve these goals, we need to apply the principles of lean manufacturing. There are several key lean manufacturing principles including:

  • Understand value in the eyes of the customer.
  • Achieve perfect first-time quality.
  • Continue improvement.
  • Respect for humanity.
  • Create pull. (Asefeso, 2011)

After Gathering information from all aspects of the company the following steps will be taken:

As can be seen, the Rich Picture is an unstructured way of capturing information flows, communication and human activity to represent complex problems and identify possible routes through to their solution (Berg, 2013). Avison and Fitzgerald (2003) stated that the Rich Picture is helpful since:

“1. Lack of space on the paper forces decisions on what is really important.

2. It helps people to visualize and discuss their own role in the organization.

3. It helps defining the aspects of the organization which are intended to be covered by the information system.

4. It helps showing up the worries of individuals, potential conflicts, and political issues.” (Avison & Fitzgerald, 2003)

With reference to the Rich Picture, there are following problems in Fixitup.

                                

Since about 74% of customers saw the service and quality as moderate or worse, the issue of quality of products must be considered. Further, a powerful information system helps different level managements for planning, decision making, target setting and their implementations (Stephanou, 1982).Therefore, quality control system and information management system are important and they will be discussed.

Resource Resource & Investment Requirement:

Comments: VOC was not heard because there was no effective communication between the company and its customers.

Remarks: By establishing a design department and integrating this department with the marketing department the customer feedback can be incorporated into the design.

Comments: Lack of checklists caused the absence of the systematic process of QC hence, the chances of defects being ignored is considerably high.

Actions: The design department and the quality team will be integrated to prepare checklists according to the quality required.

Comments: Since there was no analysis of the defective products, the defects were being ignored therefore they were persistent.

Actions: Train a quality control team who will be responsible for doing analysis, recording data and providing feedback.

Comments: There was no coherence between the departments to respond to the quality issues.

Actions: Develop communication channels between the supervisors and the technical, procurement and design departments in order to create coherence towards quality improvement.

Comments: There was no system for controlling and monitoring the Quality Control Process.

Actions: Train the factory manager on the QC process and how he should intervene in terms of analysing quality data and controlling the system. He will seek technical advice from technical, procurement and design department for a better monitoring of the system.

Comments: Monitoring and evaluation of the information system are missing.

Actions: Helen who is responsible for Internal Affairs and George can be trained for the information system and perform monitoring the system.

Conclusion

There are different problems in Fixitup which resulted in dissatisfaction of the customers. Due to having permanently relevance and also being expected to map on to an organizational boundary, the transformation from inefficient manufacturing to efficient manufacturing which has marketable products is assumed as the primary task process (Wilson and Van Haperen, 2015). Although discrimination between primary task- based and issue-based is often debatable, it seems quality control and information management systems are issue-based which help the primary task to be carried out (Waring, 1996).

The current strategy of Fixitup is to optimize manufacture processing to produce the highest quality and most advanced products by using E-business conforming to the lean manufacturing principles and integrating into their established QAD Application. After drawing the rich picture the main problems of the organization were revealed. The strategic construct which was used was ‘classification schemes’ of issues which helped to identify the differentiating characteristics necessary to improve quality control and information management systems (Verma and Boyer, 2000). Further, the system construct used for quality control was input and output; modelling of such system involves modelling of each process separately considering the connection between them (Apolloni, Howlett and Jain, 2007). In addition, the system construct used for information management system was integrated elements; in which different elements including communication, information and resources were integrated for the success of the system (Khan and Burn, 2013).

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Otley and Berry (1980) argued that four conditions must be satisfied before any process can be said to be controlled.             C:UsershamidDesktopslide_19.jpg

In the existing situation there was no one responsible for monitoring the systems and consequently, there was no capacity to take corrective actions (Emmanuel, Otley and Merchant, 2013).However, in the proposed systems, George and Helen were nominated to monitor the systems. To sum up, the details of the two systems will be discussed in the following tables.

System name and type

Quality Control Process; The input and output system construct.

Role of information

Due to lack of information about the requirements of customers and standard criteria set by the management, the products were just inspected for the appearance by the operators.  Therefore, the application of information which was vital to improve the quality of products was missing and consequently the reputation of the factory was being worsening.

Information needed to develop

In order to use the  information to improve the  quality of products we need to know:

  • Quality Criteria: After hearing the voice of customers and considering the strategy of the company the criteria for quality of products such as weight, shape and material should be prepared in a simple format.
  • Training of Workers: There was no information about the training of operators and even management in terms of quality control.
  • Historic quality data: The historic quality data including survey reports, the number of different products produced, the number of return items should be available for better assessment of the quality of products.
  • Coherence between QC and departments: There was no information as any department is dealing with quality matters. Further, there was no information about communication between operators and departments, if any, in terms of quality of products.
  • More information is needed to evaluate the possibility of automating the QC department.

Intervention

In order to solve the problem of quality of products the following actions are suggested:

  • Develop a design department and integrate this department with the marketing department so that the customer feedback can be incorporated into the design.
  • The design department and the quality team should be integrated to prepare a checklist according to the quality required.
  • The quality control team will be responsible for doing analysis, record data and providing feedback.
  • Develop a communication channel between the supervisor and the relevant technical departments in order to create coherence towards quality improvement.
  • Factory manager should intervene in terms of analysing quality data and control the system.

Risks

Even after  the intervention, the following risk associated with quality of products exist:

  • Even after the successful QC audit, there is a chance that the toys will break while transferring/ packing.
  • The Technical and procurement departments might not react to the QC feedback.
  • There might be a friction between the Factory manager and the design team in terms of accepting innovative designs.
  • There might be dissatisfaction of factory workers due to job enrichment without a pay increase.

Cost Benefit Analysis

In order to assign a monetary value to the benefits, we need more information to predict the revenue accurately as well as intangible benefits (Mindtools.com, 2016). Having good quality products will result in increasing the loyalty of existing customers and acquisition of new customers and consequently, it will increase the revenue.

In contrast, the firm may incur some costs to apply the changes. In this case, we do not have enough information about the existing departments and the expertise of employees. Assuming that none of the employees is a specialist in designing the products, we need to employ two creative designers. The rest of changes in the process can be obtained by re-engineering the departments and benefit from existing employees. In this case, there should be an increase in the employees’ wages. It seems that in long-run the total revenue will be more than total cost and the firm will have a positive profit.

Resources needed, timing

  • Developing design department, procurement department, technical department, if any of them not existed; (Short-term action)
  • 2 Creative designers should be employed; (short -term action).
  • To hear the VOC, there should be Contract based part time resources to conduct periodic market surveys; (Every six months or more frequently if needed).
  • Training a quality control team who will be responsible for doing analysis, record data and providing feedback; (short-term action).
  • Providing a proper communication channel between FM, supervisors and different departments; (short-term action).
  • Training the factory manager on the QC process and how he should intervene in terms of analysing quality data and controlling the system; (short-term action).
  • In medium- and long-term monitoring the toy markets to assess the stage of the market and finding new markets.

Monitoring the system

To monitor the process we need criteria to assess the performance of the quality control process by taking information from the process (Beynon-Davies, 2013). With reference to Ouchi model (1979), the scope of controlling will be wider if sufficient knowledge of the process exists and the relevant measures of output are identified (Lind, 2014).

To achieve this, George (the factory manager) who apparently has a good knowledge of the process is nominated to control the process. Further, through training and interaction with different technical departments, he must be equipped with proper checklists outlining the criteria for quality control. The role of information and communication here is undeniable.

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System name and type

Information management system;  The  integrated elements system construct

Role of information

  • The long-term success of the firm depends on the adequacy of its strategic plans. The management needs information to prepare those plans and make decisions for the prosperity of the organization (Davoren, 2016). Management of Fixitup did not have access to updated and accurate data to achieve these.
  • Since the QAD system was not fully utilized, information could not be shared through functional departments properly and there were problems especially in manufacturing, HR and inventory.
  • Information is needed to know if the firm is making a profit and if the firm is utilising resources efficiently. In addition, to promote the products and services the firm needs accurate and reliable information. Due to lack of a proper information system, fixitup was facing problems such as worsening its reputation and rising cost of manufacture.

Information needed to develop

To improve the information management system we need to know:

  • The technical details of QAD to fully utilize it.
  • The structure of Fixitup including the departments and their duties to customize the QAD system.
  • The knowledge and skills of staffs who are supposed to deal with QAD system.

Intervention

In order to solve the problem of quality of products the following actions are suggested:

  • Developing QAD to be a robust system which integrates all data and departments.
  • Production Data (Execution) including weight goods produced & packaged and lost production time should be recoded in QAD system accurately on a daily basis.
  • Planning Data including sales data (historical/ forecast), manufacturing variable data and manufacturing fixed data should be recorded in QAD system properly. In addition, QAD should be used as a database for further planning.
  • Educating staffs the mind-set that recording information is an important task.
  • Training staffs to record information properly in QAD.
  • Daily feedback to the operator with a simple format.

Risks

There are some risks associated with the information system (Steve, 2006) including:

  • Accidental Disclosure: Storing all information in QAD system is associated with the risk of unauthorized or accidental release of classified or sensitive information.
  • Development of software: developments in technology may require the QAD to be customised or to be replaced with new ERP systems. Therefore, application of QAD in the business should be assessed before any development.
  • Internal wrong data: there is always a risk that data recorded in the system are not accurate which affect the performance of other departments too.
  • Electrical disruption: in the case of any power failure the system will not be in working order.
  • Telecommunication interruption: any failure in communication links or units will stop transferring of data within the system.

Cost Benefit Analysis

Cost benefit analysis is a process which is used to evaluate the existing system and to justify the worth of proposed information system (Issa, 2016). To measure the costs we need more information regarding database preparation, any software required, training and personal-related costs of development, and potential disruptions to operations of the business.

However, the benefits of having a robust information system are: improved storage and retrieval techniques, improved resource utilization, reduced error rates and risk of incorrect processing, improved information handling which ultimately will result in improving the products and services and increasing the revenue. Since many of these aspects are intangible, we need more information to assign a monetary value to them.

Resources needed, timing,

  • Preparing a technical analysis report outlining the characteristics of QAD system; (short-term action).
  • Customizing QAD system to fully utilize it in all departments and processes; (short-term action, if needed).
  • Training of staffs to operate QAD system; Training George and Helen for monitoring the system; (short- time action).
  • Information System specialist to solve the technical problems; (if needed).
  • In medium- and long-term monitoring the technology markets for a better ERP system.

Monitoring the system

As it was discussed before, the process monitoring enables a firm to measure and analyze the process performance and to use data to make decisions that will improve the quality and efficiency of the process (Gasmelseid, 2011). To achieve this, Helen and George can be trained for the information system and perform monitoring the system.

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In order to improve the outcome of a consultancy project the consultancy team should obtain information as much as they can via different techniques from the organization to achieve a rich picture. With reference to Checkland’s  CATWOE, the consultancy team should:

1. Know who is the victim or beneficiary of the system and how the system affects them.

2. Know the stakeholders who are involved in the situation and are responsible to implement the changes.

3. Know what are the inputs and how they are combined to provide the outputs.

4. Know the justification for the system and the relevance of the system to the world.

5. Know who has the authority to direct the system and their role in implementing the changes.

6. Know about the external environmental constraints which may restrict the changes to the system. (Belton and Stewart, 2002)

As a final point, I will give my opinion about the system approach to consulting work. Due to my previous education both for undergraduate in engineering and postgraduate in law as well as my career in shipping industry my mind-set was to approach the affairs systematically. But, it was difficult for me to know how to apply my knowledge and experience to evaluate these affairs. Now, not only for consulting work but for my personal life I know that first, we need to gather information to draw a rich picture to visualize and define different aspects of a given scenario considering that human organizations are teleological in nature. Then divide the scenario into different processes considering different system constructs. Each system should work to help achieving the strategic goals and its performance should be continuously monitored via information obtained internally or externally. To apply the factor of innovation we should carefully study each system, its boundary and environment. Then, based on nature of the projects, plan the actions while considering ethical requirements for actions. The plans then should be implemented and there should be an evaluation of the undertaken actions. To sum up, the system approach facilitates finding of problems, plan to solve the problems by innovation to achieve the strategic goals, implement the plans, and control the change process.

Bibliography

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