Hard systems thinking

Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, Peter Checkland, 1981, page 138 - 139, 146


Hard systems thinking is an approach to real-world problems in which an objective or end-to-be-achieved can be taken as given. Then, to meet or achieve the objective, a system is engineered. The distinguishing characteristic of all hard systems thinking is the belief that all real-world problems can be formulated in the following way: there is a desired state, S1, and a present state, S0, and there are alternative ways of getting from S0 to S1. Problem solving according to this view consists of defining S1 and S0 and selecting the best means or ways of reducing the difference between them. In systems engineering (S1- S0) defines the need, or the objective to be attained, and systems analysis provides an ordered way of selecting the best among the alternative systems which could fulfill that need or objective. Problems of this kind are called hard problems or structured problems. A relevant point in hard systems thinking is that the problem is structured: there is a gap in between the desired future state and the present state; how to make the gap disappear is the problem. This can be contrasted to research made in using system ideas to tackle soft, unstructured problems; Soft systems thinking.

Hard systems thinking makes use of the kind of thinking which is natural to design engineers. The role of a design engineer is considered to be to provide an efficient way of meeting a defined need. The design engineer works in a situation where what is required has been defined, his job is to examine how it can be provided. He typically works with finding and providing answers to the question: How?

Submitted: Christian Averskog