This module addresses the inter-related activities of defining, developing, exploring and working with ill-structured organisational problems. Such activities are often classed as problem structuring activities, and they can be contrasted with activities that are directed specifically towards problem solution. The underlying rationale is that most organisational problems are so rich in complexity, uncertainty, and subjectivity that they need to be structured before they can be solved (or otherwise dealt with), and that for ill-structured problems, structuring may be a far more challenging task than solution.
As anyone with any organisational experience knows, organisational problems that present in a well-structured form are the exception rather than the rule. Most problems are “messy”: ill-defined, complex and subtle, often vague and poorly expressed, and with as many subjective versions as there are people involved. Further, such problems rarely lend themselves in any obvious way to quantification or neat solution by the traditional methods of, say, management science.
In recent years, management scientists have increasingly recognised the limitations of traditional, generally mathematical, problem solving methods, and have developed a corresponding interest in methods for structuring messy problems: methods which enable problem owners to define, discuss, explore and work with problems in a constructive way, without over-simplifying or distorting problems by attempting to fit them into a traditional, often quantitative, framework. Problem Structuring Methods PSMs) of this type, and their underlying systemic nature, are the subject matter of this module.