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4.01 - What is a Systems Approach?


A systems approach to problem solving demands that a piecemeal approach is replaced by a co-ordinated holistic approach. Systems engineering is the science of designing complex systems, using all resources - Men, Money and Materiel in an efficient manner. Using this approach the individual sub-systems making up the overall system can be designed, fitted together, checked and operated so as the achieve the Overall Objective in the most efficient way.

The traditional approach has been to optimise sub-systems - the correct approach is to optimise the total system.

The systems approach is necessary because a piecemeal approach to problem solving within firms is no longer good enough if they are to compete effectively. Technology, firms, organizations and affairs in general are becoming increasingly complex and because policy decisions increasingly require the expenditure of large sums of money the consequences of bad decisions are becoming increasingly costly.

One of the greatest benefits of the systems approach is that it exerts a unifying influence on management by tying together the many specialist techniques needed to solve complex problems.

A major consequence of the systems approach is that it highlights the fact that fundamental changes are needed in the way that both individuals and organisations go about their work. In particular it demands that problem solving need to be carried out on a more Inter-disciplinary way and that many firms and organisations need to be organised in a much more integrated fashion.

Properties of Systems

  • A system is a complex grouping involving men, machines, materials, money and information
  • Systems can be broken down into sub-systems
  • Individual sub-systems interact within themselves and at defined interfaces, by input / output matching with other sub-systems.
  • An individual sub-system forms part of a hierarchy systems with definable interfaces
  • A system must have an overall objective.
  • Maximum effectiveness is possible only after effective design.

There are three key principles that are applied in Systems Engineering, leading to the five step approach for designing manufacturing business units.

  • Take a macroscopic or overall view of a system first, defining its basic block structure or architecture and the major inputs and outputs including Missions and Goals.
  • Draw materials and information flow charts for the major Processes, identify Non-Value Added activities and specify Natural Groups for each process.
  • Apply input / output analysis to each natural group or office, ensuring that all outputs are necessary and that inputs and outputs can be communicated at each interface to create an integrated total system.

The Five Step Approach


Data Collection


Steady State Design


Dynamic Design


IS Specification


Control Systems Design


ma·te·ri·el or ma·té·ri·el - The equipment, apparatus, and supplies of a military force or other organization

Further Reading