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VSM Preliminary Diagnosis Step 6

Step 6:
Dealing with the future and the external world:
System 4 – Outside and Then

PURPOSE: To identify those parts of the System-in-Focus which are concerned with Future plans and strategies in the context of environmental information.

6.1 Draw in the System 4 square on your VSM.

6.2 Collect the System 4 activities

List the activities of System 4 under the following headings

  • Activity: What sort of planning?
  • Responsibility: Who has to do it?
  • Time Scale: C for current. One year if it needs to be dealt with in a year.
  • Priority: A, B, C, D or E (A the most urgent – They could all be E)

6.3 Validate the list

The list contains all the activities which you System-in-Focus is undertaking in order to guarantee adaptation to the future. Is it complete?

The list refers to the System-in-Focus. Go through it and identify the items which refer to the embedded System One Operational elements. (Example: For Suma relocating refers to the System-in-Focus. Replacing a Fork Truck refers to the Warehouse which is System One) Cross out everything which belongs in System One. They will be dealt with at the next level.

6.4 Group the activities into coherent groups.

Several of the items on the list may be concerned with (say) Product Design, or Technological Development, or Market Potential.

6.5 Draw a diagram showing the overlaps.

The diagram below is the one I did for HWMC in 1986. At the time we were in the process of relocating and the other major areas were rationalising the machinery (selling some, buying others) packing for new customers, and our relationship with our single major customer.

The areas of overlap indicate how the various issues relate to each other, and the bit in the middle which has three areas overlapping (the move, new machinery, relationship with major customer) is the centre of real concern about the future.

Each shaded area indicates where collaboration may be needed.

You will probably need to re-draw this diagram several times.

If the diagram you drew has no areas of overlap, then something should be done. It means that the members of your organization concerned with future planning are working in isolation, and this is obviously not a good idea.

However it is not uncommon for Research and Development to become obsessed with technological issues and to ignore Market Research. And for Corporate Planning to degenerate into purely economic terms which pay little heed to R & D and Market Research.

6.6 Add the Agents which are concerned with the Future

From the exercises you have done, write in the parts of your organization which are responsible for these tasks


Which part of your system-in-focus produces strategies for future planning?

(Remember, this is about the System-in-Focus, not about the embedded S1 Viable Systems … You may find that there is no focus for System 4 in your organization. In the co-ops I’ve worked in, this kind of activity is usually undertaken as a last resort.

The Viable Systems Model asserts that for this function to work properly it must have a continuous focus: somewhere in the System-in-Focus someone must be looking at the environment and thinking about ways of dealing with a largely unknown future.

In the next two pages, you will find an exercise concerning System 4, and a worked example. When you have completed it, you should have a good idea about the System 4 activities which you organisation ought to be undertaking. When its finished, you should think about the question posed on this page: (What is System 4 in your structure?) and decide whether you think it can do the job of continuously adapting to the future.

Derived from Jon Walker’s VSM Guide for co-ops and federations