The University of Southampton

MANG6037 Systems Thinking

Module Overview

This module introduces systems thinking in the context of management science, information systems, and related disciplines. Systems thinking is a way of looking at the world and its complexity that emphasises holistic understanding rather than a reductionist approach. Many techniques and approaches have been influenced and informed by the systems movement. This module introduces some of the basic systems concepts and ideas, and then discusses soft systems methodology (SSM), a systems-based approach to assist with complex problem- solving.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aims of this module are to introduce you to the ideas underpinning systems thinking, and to give you the opportunity to apply these ideas to real-world problem situations.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Have a basic understanding and appreciation of systems concepts and systems thinking.
  • Have an appreciation of the contrasting approaches of systemic and systematic methods of problem formulation and resolution.
  • Have first-hand experience of using one systems approach – Soft Systems Methodology.
  • Have an understanding of the strengths and limitations of such approaches.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • problem-solving
  • teamwork
  • critical thinking
  • communication skills.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Have critical understanding of the ways in which SSM might be applied in organisational settings.
  • Have experience of testing the efficacy of its use in problem structuring.
  • Reflect on the use of problem structuring and the circumstances where its use might, or might not, be beneficial.


The module has two components: a general introduction to systems ideas and systems thinking, and a detailed treatment of soft systems methodology (SSM). In the first, the genesis of the systems movement is traced, and contrasts are drawn between systemic approaches and systematic approaches, explaining the strengths and limitations of each. In the second component, a popular systemic approach – SSM – is studied in detail. The desirable pre-requisites for the introduction of such an approach in any problem situation are discussed, and examples are examined of situations where the approach has been used successfully. You are then required, within groups, to explore how SSM might help to address a particular ill-structured problem situation. The situation is modelled using SSM principles, and the efficacy of the approach is reflected upon, both in the chosen case under examination and to problem situations more generally.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The module is taught by a mix of lectures, workshop and discussion sessions. There are three lecture-based classroom sessions. As new concepts are introduced, you will be expected to assimilate these ideas through discussion in informal class groups, during which the ideas will be applied to real- world problem(s) suggested by the lecturer. As each session progresses, groups will be asked to produce written work which will demonstrate how the approaches might be applied, and the lecturer will summarise (with your help) the variety of viewpoints that might arise from a systemic analysis. By the end of the third session, you will have had first-hand experiences of a systemic approach, the reconciliation of contrasting perspectives in any given problem situation, and a model of how one such approach might shed light on a problem situation.

Independent Study63
Total study time75

Resources & Reading list

R. M. Flood & M. Jackson (1991). Creative Problem Solving. 

Some articles on SSM can be found in the Journal of the OR Society. Journal

P. Checkland & J. Scholes (1990). Soft Systems Methodology In Action. 

D. Patching (1990). Practical Soft Systems Analysis. 

J. Rosenhead & J. Mingers (2001). Rational Analysis For A Problematic World Revisited. 



Group work activities


MethodPercentage contribution
Group Assignment  (2500 words) 60%
Individual assignment  (1000 words) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Individual Coursework 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Individual assignment 100%
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