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A system map

# Systems maps

A system map shows the components and boundary of a system and the components of the environment at a point in time. A system map is effectively a list of components, but some people find the graphical representation easier to assimilate.

The main use of a system map is to help structure a system and communicate the result to others. It allows you to: clarify thoughts at an early stage of analysis; decide on structural elements for a more detailed diagram of a different type; experiment with boundaries; decide on the level of interest, i.e. ‘focusing’; and communicate to others the basic structure of the system.

The elements of systems maps are blobs and words. Linking lines are not permitted.

#### The rules are:

• that the blobs represent boundaries of system components; words are used to name each component;
• blobs outside the main system boundary represent components of the environment;
• blobs inside the main system boundary represent components of the system, and components may themselves be grouped into subsystems;
• blobs may overlap only if one or more components (which need not be depicted) are common to both.

#### The guidelines for drawing system maps are:

• the system boundary must be clear;
• dashed lines can be used when boundaries are not clear;
• irregular blobs are preferable to regular boxes since the latter suggest precision;
• overlaps are to be avoided if possible;
• maps should show components but not try to represent their properties;
• the size of blobs does not represent importance, but avoid important blobs being smaller than less important blobs;
• blobs can be anywhere, but it is best to put important components close together;
• leave space in the map for clarity and later additions;
• don’t divide blobs except when emphasising a partition.

The systems map above shows the components of a university system, but not the relationships between them.