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Questions prompted by the Formal Systems Model

The Formal Systems Model prompts a number of questions that help to analyse systems and help to find out why they are failing.

The Formal Systems Model suggests and supports the following analytic questions [1]:

  • What is the continuous purpose or mission of the system?

    What is the system supposed to do? Who set its purpose/mission? Does everyone agree? Have the expectations been made known within the system?

  • What is the structure of the system?

    What are the components of the system? What are the interactions between the parts? How does the system bring about the transformations to convert inputs into outputs?

  • What is the nature of the decision-making sub-system?

    How is the system managed? Who is responsible for deciding how the purposes of the system are achieved? Who is responsible for providing the resources to enable this to happen?

  • What is the nature of the performance-monitoring sub-system?

    Are the transformation processes being monitored? Are deviations from the expectations being reported to the decision-making subsystem so that corrective actions can be initiated where necessary?

  • What is the degree of connectivity between the components?

    What are the essential interactions for the system to perform well? Where is there feedback between the components of the system? What types of influences link the components?

  • What is the environment that interacts with the system?

    What are the components of the environment? Where is the boundary between the system and its environment?

  • How are resources distributed across the system?

    Does the decision-making subsystem control the resources? Have sufficient resources (in terms of quality and quantity) been allocated to carry out the transformations that are required?

  • How does the system maintain continuity and adapt to change?

    How does the system monitor its changing environment? What is the capability of the system to adapt to change? How effective are the system’s attempts to influence the environment?

What do you think?

Do you think these questions will be useful in analysing systems? Are there too many of them? Is anything missing? Give your views in the comments below.


[1] Fortune, J., Peters, G., Learning from failure, John Wiley & Sons (Chichester), 1995.

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Systems Thinking and Complexity

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