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Abstract

The Viable System Model (VSM) is a conceptual model which is built from the axioms, principles, and laws of viable organisation. It is concerned with the dynamic structure that determines the adaptive connectivity of the parts of the organisation or organism; what it is that enables it to adapt and survive in a changing environment. It can be used as a comparison against an actual organisation in order to identify weaknesses, mismatches or missing elements in diagnosing a problem and then as a framework for organisation design to resolve a diagnosed problem. Also it can be used for purposes of design from a clean-sheet. At the foundation of the model is the concept of variety, the number of possible activities of the parts and the necessity to limit these to those required for survival. The breakthrough in developing the model was the understanding that this could only be achieved with a fractal (recursive) layered structure. Furthermore at each level the pattern of the regulation of the variety of possible activities must be fractal. The chapter takes the reader through the development of the model and shows how the VSM supports autonomy and adaptablility. This chapter, written by a highly experienced practitioner, Patrick Hoverstadt, describes the model and its elements from a practitioner perspective supported by practical advice and helpful recommendations on its use.

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... As this work is, at least partially, based on VSM, we give a short overview of this model. VSM has been developed by Stafford Beer [1] and his colleagues and followers, see for instance [3], [20]. VSM represents an organization as a system functioning in its environment. ...
... System 4 is considered as including development, marketing and research. System 5 Identity [21] (management), Policy [3], [20] (management) ...
... Suggestions for this step are presented in Table 5. They are based on our understanding and interpretation of management literature that is based on a system theoretical perspective, such as [1], [2], [4], and [20]. This table only presents examples of actions aimed at maintaining identity, not the extensive list to choose from. 5. ...
Article
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There are several ways of defining organizational identity and identity management. This article considers a less exploited one, namely, defining identity as a set of structural couplings that the organization has, and identity management as an activity aimed at maintaining these couplings. The concept of structural coupling comes from biological cybernetics, and it means that a system during its evolution becomes entangled with few other systems. The system at hand evolves together with these systems, adapts to them and causes them to adapt to it. The concept of structural coupling is applied in a study of an institution of higher education. To identify structural couplings, the authors use a so-called Fractal Enterprise Model that presents both internal structure of an organization and its business environment. The article analyzes to which elements of the environment an institution of higher education is structurally coupled and how the identity maintenance is arranged. The article provides examples of how well maintaining identity works in practice based on reflections on the authors' experience of working in the department. The article concludes with suggesting a generic procedure for identifying structural couplings and defining a strategy of maintaining these couplings.
... The belief in using the Newtonian paradigm to make-sense of and control a complex, chaotic and volatile world lies at the heart of the modern day leadership crisis because the Newtonian paradigm is incompatible with the emerging knowledge-paradigm based on complex adaptive systems (Ackoff, 2006;Lichtenstein, 2009;Uhl-Bien, Marion and McKelvey, 2007;Marion, 2008;Meadows, 2009;Senge, 2010;Tetenbaum and Laurence, 2011). This results in leaders, organisations and systems making poor decisions with regards to balancing exploitation and exploration activities governing to system failure and collapse (Beer, 1995;Hoverstadt, 2008). Just as medieval astronomers were unable to understand the solar system because they were using the wrong paradigm to understand the solar situation (the geocentric paradigm), so conventional leaders struggle to understand the situations they face by using the Newtonian paradigm to understand the 21 st Century. ...
... Poor decision making results in a failure to correctly balance leadership and management activities. Consistently poor balancing of exploring and exploiting compromises organisational viability eventually resulting in organisational collapse (Beer, 1995;Hoverstadt, 2008). Unless this belief paradigm is changed, conventional leaders will continue to struggle with complexity, chaos and volatility and the organisations that they lead will continue to fail. ...
... If leaders and organisations cannot perceive the hidden patterns of causation in complex systems, then they cannot prepare for the future and so will be unprepared for the future when it 'arrives'. The failure to anticipate and prepare for future changes always results in organisational crisis and collapse (Beer, 1995;Hoverstadt, 2008). Therefore, it is necessary to be open and willingly explore the unknown in order to perceive and understand the patterns that create and connect complex, chaotic situations. ...
Research
Full-text available
A detailed examination of the general behaviours that systems must exhibit to maintain their viability. Extended masters thesis that laid the groundwork for 2 published papers and with more to come.
... As this work is, at least partially, based on VSM, we give a short overview of this model. VSM has been developed by Stafford Beer [1] and his colleagues and follows, see for example [3,12]. VSM represents an organization as a system functioning in its environment and consisting of two parts: Operation and Management. ...
... System 5 Identity [13] (management), Policy [3,12] (management) ...
... VSM model, adapted from[12] ...
Conference Paper
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An extended version of this paper is available: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/353772330_Identity_Management_in_an_Institution_of_Higher_Education_A_Case_Study_Using_Structural_Coupling_and_Fractal_Enterprise_Model. This paper presents an ongoing study on defining and maintaining organizational identity of an institution of higher education, such as a department or school. The theoretical background used in the study is the concept of structural coupling that comes from biological cybernetics. The study concerns the authors own department. The paper presents proposals of to which elements of the environment such an institution is structurally coupled and how the identity maintenance is arranged. The paper provides examples of how maintaining identity works or not works in practice based on reflections on the authors' experience of working in their own department. It also shows that maintaining identity may requires changes in different components of the socio-technical system, e.g. methods, people, technology.
... The belief in using the Newtonian paradigm to make-sense of and control a complex, chaotic and volatile world lies at the heart of the modern day leadership crisis because the Newtonian paradigm is incompatible with the emerging knowledge-paradigm based on complex adaptive systems (Ackoff, 2006;Lichtenstein, 2009;Uhl-Bien, Marion and McKelvey, 2007;Marion, 2008;Meadows, 2009;Senge, 2010;Tetenbaum and Laurence, 2011). This results in leaders, organisations and systems making poor decisions with regards to balancing exploitation and exploration activities governing to system failure and collapse (Beer, 1995;Hoverstadt, 2008). Just as medieval astronomers were unable to understand the solar system because they were using the wrong paradigm to understand the solar situation (the geocentric paradigm), so conventional leaders struggle to understand the situations they face by using the Newtonian paradigm to understand the 21 st Century. ...
... Poor decision making results in a failure to correctly balance leadership and management activities. Consistently poor balancing of exploring and exploiting compromises organisational viability eventually resulting in organisational collapse (Beer, 1995;Hoverstadt, 2008). Unless this belief paradigm is changed, conventional leaders will continue to struggle with complexity, chaos and volatility and the organisations that they lead will continue to fail. ...
... If leaders and organisations cannot perceive the hidden patterns of causation in complex systems, then they cannot prepare for the future and so will be unprepared for the future when it 'arrives'. The failure to anticipate and prepare for future changes always results in organisational crisis and collapse (Beer, 1995;Hoverstadt, 2008). Therefore, it is necessary to be open and willingly explore the unknown in order to perceive and understand the patterns that create and connect complex, chaotic situations. ...
Research
Full-text available
A detailed examination of the general behaviours that systems must exhibit to maintain their viability. Extended masters thesis that laid the groundwork for 2 published papers and with more to come.
... They define the concept as "an integral part of corporate governance [that] addresses the definition and implementation of processes, structures and relational mechanisms in the organization that enable both business and IT people to execute their responsibilities in support of business/IT alignment and the creation of business value from IT-enabled business investments." 2 three books, as well as by other writers elsewhere (e.g. Espejo & Harnden (1989); Espejo & Reyes (2011); Hoverstadt (2010); Yolles (1999)). ...
... For a more detailed discussion, the reader is referred to Beer's original work (Beer, 1979(Beer, , 1981(Beer, , 1985 and other reference work (e.g. Espejo & Harnden (1989); Espejo & Reyes (2011);Hoverstadt (2010); Yolles (1999)). To summarize, the VSM is a generic and dynamic model of organisation to support the design and diagnosis of effective control and communication structures (Espejo & Reyes, 2011). ...
... It is responsible for keeping the autonomy of all embedded viable systems in balance with the overall cohesion (Anderton, 1989). System 3 is the management function concerned with running the current state of affairs (Hoverstadt, 2010). ...
Article
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This paper investigates IT governance through the Viable System Model (VSM). We make a theoretical contribution by discussing why IT governance can continue to achieve its purpose of creating and preserving IT business value. Additionally, we demonstrate how the VSM can be used as a lens to describe and diagnose IT governance from a practical perspective, offering insights in how complexity can be unfolded and how complexity engineering takes place to handle changing complexity.
... Monitoring is a form of organizational control mechanism that supports managerial decision making. Based on the viable system model (VSM), the monitoring function is defined as activities that support the direct gathering of relevant information from operating units, which then become input for the control function of a system (Hoverstadt 2010;Khairul Akmaliah et al. 2012). The control function then makes use of these information to produce control reports for high-level functions of intelligence and policymaking of the system. ...
... The existence of this dataset reflects that the high-level managers receive the most accurate information about the primary activities of the system, which serve as the basis in supporting their decision making process. The monitoring function is also responsible for verifying the data that have been collected by the control function or 'checking the reality' in the operating units (Hoverstadt 2010). The monitoring function then analyse the data and generate a report to be delivered to the control function, which then processed the monitoring data to be provided as a management control report to the high-level management for their use (Espejo and Reyes 2011). ...
... The monitoring function then analyse the data and generate a report to be delivered to the control function, which then processed the monitoring data to be provided as a management control report to the high-level management for their use (Espejo and Reyes 2011). Espejo and Gill (1997); Hoverstadt (2008Hoverstadt ( , 2010; Khairul Akmaliah et al. (2011Akmaliah et al. ( , 2012 Moreover, monitoring serves as one of the essential means of communication between the higher-level units and the operating units. According to Hoverstadt (2010), the check and balance provided by the monitoring function prevents any misdeed by managers of the operating units as any communication breakdown can negatively affect the viability of the entire system. ...
Article
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Based on the viable system model (VSM), a system viability refers to the capability of a system to exist and maintain its sustainability within an environment. In this framework, monitoring function supports the gathering of relevant information directly from the operating units and feeding them into the formal control function. In turn, the control function uses the information to produce reports for the higher level functions of intelligence and policymaking, which later utilise these information for their decision making. Given its role, monitoring function supports the viability of a system, especially in large-scale policy-based system. However, studies on the functions of a system monitoring are generally lacking, leading to the lack of understanding on how to conduct monitoring in a viable system implementation. The objectives of this study are a) to discuss the role of monitoring in a viable system framework, and b) to conceptualize the function of monitoring within a policy-based system that is enabled by technologies. To achieve these objectives, this study reviews the literature on monitoring (in relation to VSM framework), on research process in general, as well as on technology adoption. This conceptual exploration generates an emergent viable system model that can guide future researchers in conducting an action research of monitoring function implementation.
... The VSM, as a model, can be viewed as a device to support the handling of reality (Harwood, 2019). The VSM understands that an organization can be considered viable if, and only if, it presents a set of five systems that make it capable of surviving in a particular environment (Ríos, 2012;Hoverstadt, 2010a). These five systems are: ...
... • System 1 is the set of activities that the organization does which provide value to its external environment, the primary operations (Hoverstadt, 2010a). System 1 may have several elementary operational units. ...
... System 1 may have several elementary operational units. Each elementary unit is a viable system, since it presents a high autonomy level and is formed by basic elements, such as: operation, local management and local regulatory center (Ríos, 2012); 26 BPMJ 26,1 • System 2 is the system responsible for coordinating operations, it seeks to avoid any conflict between the operational units that form the system 1 (Hoverstadt, 2010a;Ríos, 2012); ...
Article
Purpose Sectoral brand management processes have presented planning, development and implementation challenges. With the aim of reducing these managerial problems, the purpose of this paper is to revise the structure and the processes of the sectoral brands management. Design/methodology/approach This is a qualitative exploratory study, with its unit of analysis being the process of managing the brand of the Brazilian fashion sector. Primary data collection was obtained through in-depth interviews with the seven industry associations and with the company responsible for the brand consulting. The secondary data used were reports about the branding process of the brand provided by respondents. Data analysis was provided by using the VSM to modeling sector structure and BPMN to processes modeling. Findings The results present a new sectoral brand structure and process to reduce existing barriers. Three sections were carried out: analysis and modeling of the current structure and processes of sectoral brand management; presentation of the current structure and processes problems; analysis and modeling of future structure and processes of sectoral brand management. Research limitations/implications A theoretical contribution is provided in the literature of systems, processes and sectoral brands, since there are no previous studies that elaborated a system structure and process for sectoral brands. In addition, other theoretical contribution is the presentation of a future process model that relates brand management process with its system structure, that is, it relates BPM analysis with VSM. Practical implications It is also possible to indicate that VSM and BPM can contribute to the management of sectoral brands, through the structural and process problems identification and also by making possible to suggest future management improvements to reduce the barriers that were identified. Originality/value The present study originality is the approach of the first analysis of sector brand management with emphasis on its structure and processes that were experienced by the Brazilian fashion sector.
... Thus, too much autonomy leads to loss of synergy while too little threatens the emergent properties that reflect the purpose of the organization. Further tensions arise between current and future desired states (Hoverstadt, 2011). ...
... Where command-and-control is the prevailing culture, actual practice -doing what it takes to get the job done -is often quite different from that which is officially sanctioned. This is an instance of autonomy being taken, rather than granted (Hoverstadt, 2011). Through selforganization, an informal structure is likely to emerge that makes autonomous action possible. ...
... How may this be achieved? Hoverstadt (2011) suggests that attenuators could include standardization of products or services; grouping of customers into defined segments with similar characteristics; grouping of employees into work groups linked to primary activities, e.g. divisions, departments, teams. ...
Article
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This paper considers organizations as dynamic open systems, seeking to maintain viable relationships with their environments. It recognizes the endemic nature of change and how modern organizations must respond by innovating in order to remain sustainable and progress, and must promote a culture of readiness. The possible tension between continuous improvement for efficiency in processes and a holistic perspective for innovation is noted, taking into account a need to capture contextual knowledge from all levels in the business. The authors suggest that the Viable Systems Model (Beer, 1985) may be a useful tool for reflection on design of effective management in a balanced and flexible organization. This model attempts to balance variety between organizations and their environments, and between operational units and management, through recursive levels of autonomy.
... The OLI framework, on the other hand, is excellent for explaining and analysing the economics of offshoring, as well as its impact on the activities of a firm involved in the process, yet it has limited power to explain or predict the behaviour of individual firms due to its generic nature (Dunning, 1988 (Williamson, 1975) RBV (Wernerfelt, 1984 andBarney, 1991) The OLI framework (Dunning, 1980(Dunning, , 1988 The viable systems model (Beer, 1972(Beer, , 1984(Beer, , 2007 Focus of theory Transaction properties are the basis for governance (Williamson, 1979(Williamson, , 1998Tate et al., 2009) A firm is a collection of resources and assets, if "well employed can lead to competitive advantage" (Wernerfelt, 1984;Barney, 1991;Kotabe et al., 2008) Organisations tend to consider three variables when taking international expansion decisions: ownership advantages, location advantages and internalisation advantages (Dunning, 1988(Dunning, , 1980 A firm needs five specific subsystems to remain viable. VSM specifies the general role of each subsystem and their interrelationships (Beer, 1984(Beer, , 2007Hoverstadt, 2010) Why theory is important for an offshoring organisation? The offshoring firm must to maintain control of transactions in which difficulties are likely to arise (Mudambi and Venzin, 2010). ...
... In other words, which changes take place in the equations of horizontal and vertical variety, and how does the firm reach stability again? Horizontal variety represents the interactions and variety equations that occur between the operation and the environment, while vertical variety represents the interactions and variety equations that occur between the operation and the management systems (Hoverstadt, 2010). ...
Article
Purpose – The purpose of the paper is concerned with one of the main contributions from the field of management cybernetics, the Viable System Model (VSM) developed by Beer (1972). This paper analyses what happens in terms of the VSM when a firm engages in production offshoring. Design/methodology/approach – The paper is conceptual and develops four propositions about the nature of variety balance that production firms face, and what adjustments they make in the original viable system, both in terms of the properties of one or more of the basic subsystems and in the network of couplings between them. Findings – The paper shows the production offshoring organisation as a dynamic adaptive system in search of ways to cope effectively with external forces that undermine its viability. The paper discusses how VSM can advance production offshoring research by both supplementing and linking established approaches such as transaction cost economics, the resource-based view and the eclectic theory of international production. Originality/value – This research highlights the effects of geographical expansion of the firm’s operation on the stability of the firm itself. Using the VSM perspective, the paper provides opportunities to systematically track the changes that occur in the production offshoring firm and diagnose what they imply for the viability of the system as a whole.
... For example, the tasks/activities completed by units of VSM System 1 are directed at delivering value to its customers (external environment), while the tasks/activities of System 3 are directed at delivering resources, the System 1 needs to complete their operations. The difference between formal and informal structure when building a VSM is known and its being highlighted by several authors, see, for example [2]. However, the guidelines on how to differentiated tasks/activities that belong to different VSM systems still remain vague, at least for inexperience novice modeler. ...
... VSM model, adapted from[2] ...
Conference Paper
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Though Viable System Model (VSM) has been invented for several decennia ago, it is still not widely use in practice. One of the possible reasons for this is that the formal structure of an organization very rarely, or may be never corresponds to the VSM prescribed structure. This confuses novices and results in erroneous VSM models. To make VSM more understandable to a wider circle of enterprise modelers, we suggest using it in a combination with the Fractal Enterprise Model (FEM). FEM represents an organization as an interconnected set of processes and assets; relations between the two are of two types: assets are used in processes-workforce, infrastructure, etc., while processes manage assets-acquire, maintain and retire. The idea is that based on FEM, it is easier to understand which business activities belong to which VSM systems/units, as it can be done without considering the administrative structure of the company. Keywords: viable system model, VSM, fractal enterprise model 1 The Problem Viable System Model (VSM) proposed by Stafford Beer [1] suggests that for an order to be viable, an organizational (i.e. socio-technical) system needs to have a proper struc-ture/architecture. Viability here is considered as a property of a system to survive and prosper in the dynamic environment. VSM prescribed relatively decentralized architecture that consists of 5 so-called systems numbered from System 1 to System 5, and additional mechanisms, such as System 3* and algedonic signals to manage exceptions and unexpected perturbations in the system's internal and external environment, see Fig. 1. The VSM architecture is recursive, meaning that the operational units of the lower level, from System 1, on their own should be viable systems with the prescribed structure having all 5 systems inside them. Several decennia have passed from VSM first appearance. Though, there are a number of experts in the management world that successfully use VSM in practice, especially for systems diagnostics, the model has not got substantial spreading among the management practitioners. Even in the academia, VSM is not widely used in research and teaching, though there are a relatively large body of publications related to VSM. We believe that one of the reasons that hinders adoption of VSM in practice and academia is its seemingly strong focus on the structure of a socio-technical system, and
... VSM can be considered as a conceptual model which is built based on the basics of viable systems. It can be used either as a diagnostic tool by comparing the performance of the actual system with the viable one or as a framework for designing viable systems (Hoverstadt, 2010;Schwaninger, 2015;Hildbrand and Bodhanya, 2017). In general, VSM can be thought as a model which contains principles for the viability of any human or social systems (Schwaninger and Pérez Ríos, 2008;Fernandez et al., 2013). ...
... It manages communication between S1's parts and between S1 and S3. It should also be clear that the higher the degree of co-ordination between the operating units, the less the need for official management to achieve system viability (Hoverstadt, 2010;Adham et al., 2015). System 3* "monitoring" or "Auditing" (S3*) monitors S1's units and generates information about each of them. ...
Article
Purpose Viable system model (VSM) is a powerful tool mainly used to describe, solve and control systems’ complex problems autonomously. It enables systems to be flexible so that they can survive by rapidly responding and adapting their behaviors to any expected or even unexpected changes in the surrounding environment. This study aims to provide a literature review of the VSM as a conceptual framework for designing viable systems, and its applications in the field of higher education (HE). Design/methodology/approach The review is based on explaining “What is organizational cybernetics?”, clarifying the principles of the VSM as a rational model for designing viable organizations, discussing its drawbacks and the extended VSM, and then presenting a literature review of VSM applications in HE based on papers mainly published from 1993 to 2017. Findings Although there are many contributions provided by applying the VSM in HE, the previous developed models used Beer’s framework with its drawbacks without referring to some important factors neglected within it which are discussed in this review. Originality/value The study presents a summary of previous research on this topic and clarifies the essential issues needed to be addressed to design viable systems. Based on the gaps identified in the literature, some issues have been emphasized to be addressed in future research.
... The main benefit of VSD in tackling organizational problems in hospitals, indeed all applications in organizational contexts, is that it is particularly powerful in facilitating systemic and holistic diagnoses (Hoverstadt 2020). Lienhard and Legner (2014) illustrate why this is important. ...
... It is also worthy of note that that the VSM has been used in conjunction with other organizational concepts, fads, and process tools (Hoverstadt 2020). This is prevalent within the hospital sector. ...
Article
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This article presents the application of the systemic problem structuring approach Viable System Diagnosis (VSD) within the Department of Orthopedic Surgery in a large hospital in Norway. It explains why systemic thinking is relevant to this uniquely complex form of human organization. The department was coping with systemic dysfunction and VSD was chosen because previous applications demonstrated VSD excels at diagnosis of what is causing dysfunction. VSD was employed through a participatory framework that included in the process, among other stakeholders, medics, technologists, managers, administrators and, as far as possible given the sensitive nature of patient information, the patient. VSD guided thinking about what the organization is set up to do and the existing organizational arrangements to achieve that. The outcome was an agenda for debate that guided stakeholder discussions toward ways and means of improving organizational arrangements. The article briefly reviews previous applications of VSD in the hospital sector and other large complex organisations.
... On the other hand, VSM provides a suitable framework for diagnosis and design of modern system architecture. Then, SD can provide the dynamic view VSM required (Espejo and Harnden 1990;Haslett 2000;Hoverstadt 2010;Preece et al. 2014;Espinosa et al. 2015). Therefore, the combination of these two methodologies will be useful from both theoretical and practical perspectives (Table 1). ...
... On the other hand, VSM provides a suitable system for diagnosis and design of modern system structure. SD can provide the dynamic view VSM required (Espejo and Harnden 1990;Haslett 2000;Hoverstadt 2010;Preece et al. 2014; Espinosa et al. . Therefore, the combination of these methodologies will be useful from both theoretical and practical perspectives (Table 1). ...
Article
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The purpose of this paper is to develop a framework based on the Viable System Model (VSM) and the System Dynamics (SD) that dynamizes and simulates VSM. Failure in non-systemic solutions for management problems, urges managers to search for alternative management solutions. Therefore, managers chose Systems Thinking to tackle management complexity in organizations. In recent years, the need for alternative management solutions has given rise to increased popularity of methodologies such as system dynamics and viable system models. Moreover, managers are the victims of systemic failure in non-systemic organizational methodologies due to the one-dimensional and non-holistic views of the organizations (each methodology presents one dimension and viewpoint to the organization). To address the above issues and to facilitate complexity management in organizations, such methodologies should be reconciled and applied together in the form of a complementary multi-methodological approach. Therefore, to close this gap in the literature, this paper seeks to develop a new multi-methodological approach based on Viable System Model (VSM) and System Dynamics (SD). In this context, a dynamic model is developed that handles and manages knowledge throughout the organization together with a general SD framework that models organizational problem-solving. VSM literature review shows there are demands for such dynamic knowledge-based organizational design and diagnosis methodology. The developed multi-methodological approach enables the design of a dynamic complexity handling structure and its associated processes in any given organization. This research result is providing an approach that is more suitable and comprehensive as it dynamizes VSM and covers for the weaknesses of both SD and VSM. Then, the multi-methodology is applied in a management consulting company and the results are presented. The application of the multi-methodology and proposed policy results demonstrates improved organizational problem-solving abilities in terms of speed and manageability of problems.
... The overemphasis on exploitation activity results in organisations that are highly optimised to achieve their goals in the present yet are very vulnerable & unprepared for future changes. Thus, when unexpected future events 'arrive' in the present, these efficient yet fragile organisations are thrown into crisis that significantly reduces organisational performance and at worst leads to organisational collapse (Hoverstadt, 2008). To address this consistent vulnerability, it is argued that modern leaders need to find a better way of balancing exploration and exploitation activities in today's VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, ...
... The lack of exploration activity means that leaders and organisations have insufficient situational understanding and are therefore unable to properly position themselves in the shifting VUCA landscape (McKelvey, 2008). This result in organisations continuously finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time thereby generating a continuous sense of crisis and extreme stress in the orgnaisation which can quickly lead to organisational collapse (Hoverstadt, 2008). Finally, even if leaders do engage in exploration activities, the dominance of the industrial thought paradigm means that they lack the right epistemic tools to generate an effective situational understanding of VUCA environments (Uhl-Bien et al, 2007). ...
Article
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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explain why systems must make a habit of exploring the unknown and identify the complex and chaotic dynamics that drive modern volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) situations. Design/methodology/approach – Eight faculty staff from the “Thunderbird School of Global Management” were interviewed around the subject of “what does it take to be a successful 21st Century leader?” in spring 2012. These interviews were then analysed using Ricoeur’s Hermeneutic methodology which resulted in three behaviours being identified. Then, according to Ricoeur’s methodology, deep interpretation of the results took place to understand these research results through the lens of complexity science. Findings – Systems must make a habit of actively exploring the unknown to discover the patterns that cause complex chaos. This enables them to improve their capacity to generate useful situational understanding in VUCA environments and better position themselves in the fitness landscape. Finally, the idea of “epistemic stance” is introduced as an important way of managing identity and improving innovation. Research limitations/implications – The implication is that modern systems, e.g. leaders and organisations, must make a habit of exploring the unknown to find and understand the dynamics that drive the complex world if they are to build effective situational understanding of VUCA environments. Practical implications – If systems wish to innovate, they must ensure they have the appropriate epistemic stance in place so that they can change their identity to allow innovation to transform the identity. Originality/value – Whilst the behaviour of exploration is already known, this research focuses that behaviour on specifically identifying the patterns that cause complex chaos. Further, the epistemic stance is introduced which plays an important role in regulating how open a system is to changing its identity and therefore adapting and innovating.
... The Viable System Model (VSM) is a conceptual model which is built from the axioms, principles, and laws of viable organization (Hoverstadt, 2010). Stafford Beer developed the VSM in his book trilogy (Beer, 1972(Beer, , 1979(Beer, , 1985. ...
Article
Organizations are complex systems, which are formed by other subsystems such as work teams, and are the focus of attention in this research. This article makes an approach to the teams involved software development process in IT companies using a viable system based model and computational modeling. An analysis of teamwork is made from a socio-technical perspective, where individuals and technology produce emergent behaviors that may be crucial to achieving goals, since fellowship, collaboration, and culture are relevant processes within these organizations and technology also playing an important role. Complex Systems, Fuzzy Logic, Multi-Agent Systems, Organizations, Teams
... We selected this approach, as we believe that organizational success can be managed only through a holistic and multidisciplinary approach, and, as has been recently reported: "the VSM is the best available guide for structuring and managing a business enterprise for success in turbulent times" 37 , since "the VSM supports autonomy and adaptability" . 38 To this end, and also considering the concepts proposed by Nohria et al. 39 , we have identified the following factors for the success and sustainability of an organizational system: Innovation. Defined as "the implementation of new or significantly improved products (goods or services) or processes, new marketing methods, or new organizational methods in business practices, workplace organization or external relations" 40 . ...
Article
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Entropy is an abstract concept. It refers to a measure of disorder or uncertainty in a system. Since its origin from the study of thermodynamics, various scientific disciplines have applied this property in their respective fields of knowledge, which represents a major challenge, since entropy is difficult to interpret, understand or visualize, as it lacks of a direct interpretation or physical measurement. This article discusses the origins of this concept, its implementation in different knowledge areas, and describes the research currently conducted by the authors of this work to evaluate entropy as a measure of disorder in organizational systems, which are conceived of as dissipative systems, i.e., systems that are able to remain in a state of imbalance, challenging the inherent tendency towards an equilibrium state, which acts as an attractor of the system. While this paper focuses mainly on the case of private enterprises, the concepts addressed in this work may be applied to any type of organizational system.
... Morlidge (2010), for example, found a positive relationship between organizational structure, regulatory processes and consistency of financial performance. Conversely, the lack of requisite variety is easier to diagnose through the observation of common problems typically associated with its absence (Hoverstadt, 2010;Morlidge, 2010;Pérez Ríos, 2012). VE analysis is an alternate way of understanding the fit between an organization and its environment (Osborn et al., 1977). ...
Article
In the MCS literature, accounting control frameworks and the concept of the control package offer different views on the components comprising control systems but little guidance for assessing the completeness of the systems or the effectiveness of the control being delivered. This paper draws on two cybernetic tools, namely the Viable System Model (VSM) and variety engineering (VE) to analyze the completeness and effectiveness of management control systems in a case company. The components of the system are mapped on to the VSM and the completed model used to assess the completeness of the system. The VSM analysis reveals the MCS of the case company is complete and therefore control problems arising from incomplete structures are not anticipated or found. The VE analysis, guided by the VSM, systematically assesses the company's approach to control by considering how the variety of the control system and the environment are amplified and attenuated, respectively. The analysis reveals the system is designed around processes that amplify branch managers’ ability to respond to highly uncertain external conditions. The MCS is judged to provide effective control, meaning it appropriately balances the variety of the system and the environment, enabling branches to consistently achieve their performance goals. The VSM and VE together provide new tools to describe and analyze MCS and their fit with the external environment.
... There are some STCS methodological approaches that are particularly useful for constructing and contrasting descriptive and normative models of a system or situation. For example, the viable systems model (VSM) (Hoverstadt, 2010) presents a diagram of the organizational structure and processes necessary for any system to meet the demands of surviving in a changing environment. Viability is the overall normative aim with many dimensions (e.g., variation within an organization matching variation in the environment) that together can be compared with a descriptive analysis of an organization in order to generate a value judgment of the organization and directions for future action. ...
Article
In the last twenty years, a conversation has emerged in the evaluation field about the potential of systems thinking and complexity science (STCS) to transform the practice of evaluating social interventions. Documenting and interpreting this conversation are necessary to advance our understanding of the significance of using STCS in planning, implementing, and evaluating social interventions. Guided by a generic framework for evaluation practice, this paper reports on an inter-disciplinary literature review and argues that STCS raises some new ways of thinking about and carrying out the following six activities: 1) supporting social problem solving; 2) framing interventions and contexts; 3) selecting and using methods; 4) engaging in valuing; 5) producing and justifying knowledge; and 6) facilitating use. Following a discussion of these issues, future directions for research and practice are suggested.
... From a practical viewpoint, SD does not cater for organizational structure, however, VSM provides a suitable system for diagnosis and design of modern system structure. SD can provide the dynamic view VSM required (Espejo and Harnden, 1990;Haslett and Oka, 2000;Hoverstadt, 2010;Preece et al., 2014;Espinosa et al., 2015). Therefore, the combination of these methodologies would be useful from both theoretical and practical perspectives (Table III). ...
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Purpose This paper reviews the underpinning principles and scientific trends of cybernetics and the viable system model (VSM). Therefore, this paper aims to guide authors and managers active in management cybernetics and to inform them about the past, current and future trends in this discipline. Design/methodology/approach This paper adopts both qualitative and quantitative methods. First, a descriptive and qualitative approach is used to review and analyze management cybernetics historical trends. Then, a frequency analysis (quantitative) is conducted on the 1,000 first publications in the field. Findings The cybernetics was emerged in the Josiah Macy conference in 1946. Then, Wiener introduced the field of cybernetics and Ashby, Von Foerster and McCulloch developed this concept as a discipline. The Management cybernetics field that was introduced by Beer is a combination of system, control and management sciences. Beer presented VSM as an operational model in this area. Analyzing the 1,000 top-ranked publications shows that the introduction of this field reached maturity and further development became relatively mature. Moreover, based on the analyzed trends, VSM model application can now be strongly attractive. In this paper, the main journals, authors and research trends are analyzed. The main application area of this model is in the IT field and large-scale organizations. Practical implications The present paper’s implication for practitioners and researchers is guiding authors and managers to most appropriate studies in the field, so that they can produce and use the most efficient studies in this field. Social implications The fields of IT, Policy-Making, Production, Social Issues, Service industry, Software developers, etc., are some of this paper’s implications for industry and society. Originality/value In this paper, the steps of VSM development are investigated. Then, recent trends (classifications, authors, journals and topics analysis) are surveyed by analyzing the top 1,000 publications in this field. This paper would help researchers find more appropriate research fields. In addition, it helps practitioners find the optimum solutions based on management cybernetics for their problems among vast numbers of publications.
... The Viable System Model (VSM) is a conceptual model which is built from the axioms, principles, and laws of viable organization [3]. Stafford Beer developed the VSM in his trilogy: Brain of the Firm [4], Heart of the Enterprise [5] and Diagnosing the System for Organizations [6], It has been used as a diagnosis tool and for the design of different types of organizations [7]. ...
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The organization is not like a machine that just needs to meet a target with efficiency, it presents larger problems like survival and adaptation to a changing and uncertain environment. It is also an open system influenced by other systems outside of it. This interaction can be seen as emerging behavior that acts as a living organism that adapts and is self-organized. Humanity moves increasingly faster thus organizations must adapt; reductionist studies that only consider hierarchy and economic factors are no longer sufficient, nowadays approaches have emerged to manage and understand an organization from a complexity approach highlighting the progress of organizational cybernetics. In this paper, we propose the use of Neuro-Fuzzy Systems for modeling the emergent behavior of a self-organized organization to achieve effectiveness.
... On the other hand, VSM provides a suitable framework for diagnosis and design of modern system architecture. Then, SD can provide the dynamic view VSM required (Espejo and Harnden 1990;Hoverstadt 2010;Preece et al. 2015;Haslett 2000). Therefore, the combination of these two methodologies will be useful from both theoretical and practical perspectives. ...
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The Viable System Model have pulled in system specialists’ interests lately. This field could help system analyzers and designers to deal with systems unpredictability and help them to handle dynamic evolving situations. This paper investigates Viable System Model recorded and late research patterns. To start with, presenting and creating verifiable pattern of this model has been examined. At that point late distribution patterns have been checked on by reviewing 1000 most essential and cited works Based on Google Scholar rank. Cybernetics developed in the Josiah Macy conferences, beginning in 1946. At that point, Wiener presented the field of Cybernetics and Ashby, Von Forester, and McCulloch built up this field as a train. This Management Cybernetics was presented in 1959 by Beer is a blend of frameworks of control, and management sciences. Beer introduced VSM as an operational model here. Reviewing 1000 most cited publications demonstrates the presentation of this field achieved maturity and further advancement turned out to be generally under development. In addition, in view of investigated patterns, application of VSM model would now be able to be firmly alluring.
... compliance with system 2 mechanisms is essentially voluntary and not mandatory (as would be the case with system 3 mechanisms using the command axis) (Beer, 1985;Hoverstadt, 2010). As such, the EAF would be a system 3 structure if their decisions would be binding. ...
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This final chapter is structured around case studies that were performed as part of our research activities. All case studies deal with the organization’s EGIT arrangement (or system), but each case sheds an in-depth light on certain aspects of EGIT. The first case study contained in this chapter, i.e., the “University of Antwerp” case, deals with board-level EGIT. The second case study, i.e., the “Acerta” case, investigates an EGIT system through the lens of the Viable System Model. Finally, the third case study, i.e., the “De Lijn” case, demonstrates the evolutionary dynamics of an EGIT system (i.e., how and why an EGIT system changes over time).
... ensuring that the risks of this (IT-enabled) service are under control). Indeed, insufficient operational complexity results in failure to deliver on market demand and insufficient managerial complexity results in failure to manage effectively (Hoverstadt, 2010). ...
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The previous chapter provided a high-level description of the “Enterprise Governance of IT (EGIT)” concept. This second chapter starts with discussing the genesis and evolution of EGIT, both in academic research and practice. Then, this chapter introduces mechanisms that can be used to implement EGIT in practice. Indeed, developing a high-level model for EGIT is the first step, deploying it throughout all levels of the organization is the next challenging step. To effectuate this, EGIT can be deployed using a mixture of various structures, processes, and relational mechanisms. These EGIT mechanisms will be discussed in this chapter, including a demonstration of how such mechanisms were leveraged in the context of KLM, a large international airline company. Finally, specific EGIT-related topics will be discussed such as the role of the board in EGIT, IT governance transparency, the inter-organizational governance of IT, ambidextrous EGIT, and a more theoretical view on EGIT by drawing on the lens of the Viable System Model (VSM).
... On the other hand, it is important to make it clear that the model is conceptual and not a methodology. According to Hoverstadt (2010), it is necessary to apply a methodology for the model utilization. ...
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A review of the current literature on the global relevance of fish farming reveals the complexity and uncertainty arising from problem situations related to the management of fishery resources. Thus, the present paper is aimed to present an example of the application of the viable system model in the organizational context of the fisheries development policy. It describes the process that begins by clarifying the identity, purpose, and limits of the political organization in question, followed by the vertical and horizontal unfolding of its complexity. The results demonstrate that the recursive structures have much to contribute to the consistency of the political decision processes, besides reducing the social and organizational costs supported by many current policies. The model adopted can guide the leaders of public and private organizations to apply cybernetic concepts to improve the communication and actions of their strategic policies, establishing conditions for the development of fish farming.
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Existence of supporting entities and their cohesive operations are important elements in industry development policy undertaken in emerging economies, which are characterized by heavy government interventions and involved many agencies and institutions. One of the models that emphasizes on cohesiveness as a precondition for viability is the viable system model (VSM). In this study, we adopt the VSM in combination with theories of innovation and innovation system as our conceptual framework to describe and explain the functions and relational structure that exist among agencies/institutions and that of the agencies with their environment elements within one policy level system implementation. We select a biotechnology industry development policy for our analysis, the implementation of which has been designated as a strategic vehicle to support the economic development goals of an emerging economy. The findings, which generate a model of the policy-level system implementation, explain the operating agencies’ functions and their inter-relationships. The emergent model provides policy makers and implementers recommendations for improvements, as well as offers future researchers potential for comparison between existing performance of a policy implementation against its expected performance targets. The study concludes that the biotechnology industry development is an effort by the Malaysian government to institutionalize biotechnology businesses and industry. The perspective of systems thinking, in combination with theories of institutionalization, innovation and innovation system, provide important foundations in explaining technology-based industry development. All these findings highlight that the knowledge gain in explaining and interpreting the problem in focus is worthwhile, although the use of VSM as a research tool demands considerable efforts.
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Inquirers explore situations from their ownWeltanschauung and model them through a paradigm. A relationship between Weltanschauung and the paradigm is explored, as is that between paradigms and situations. Within the context of Critical Systems Thinking, exploration of how paradigms and their coordination, and thus the methodologies that they entertain, can be used within the action of complementarism.
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The paper describes a project carried out within a major chemicals corporation to improve the performance of the individual businesses. This was to be done by clarifying some of the organisational uncertainties in its structure and improving the way that specialists form coalitions to address market challenges together. The approach used was based on “systems thinking”, which is an intellectual framework of knowledge that attempts to view organisations as wholes and which studies the processes of change in any part in the context of the whole organisation. Some of the important concepts of systems thinking are explored as they might be applied within a business organisation. Specifically the tool used was the Viable System Model of Stafford Beer, which the authors interpreted and developed into a set of statements (“a Standard”) which describe best practice in such organisations. Managers have used this to explore possible gaps in their organisations and, with this understanding, find ways to improve performance.
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A research university is a multi-mission organisation involved in education, research, and innovation that supports both the social development and economic well-being of the society. Therefore, good management of a research university is of strategic importance. However, to date, extant literature has centred on the functional aspects of research universities (namely education, research, and commercialisation), and less on the systems view of university operations. To fill this lacuna in the literature, this study proposes a general systems framework for a viable research university. The study first reviews literature on the functions and purposes of research universities. It then utilises the viable system model (VSM) as a modelling tool to develop a systemic framework for viable research universities. This proposed framework allows a comprehensive view of the functions of research universities thereby helping university management develop the necessary capabilities and allocate the appropriate resources toward achieving its mission.
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‘Systems thinking’ is a portmanteau term for a body of theories and techniques that unite around a focus on whole systems and relationships between entities, rather than breaking systems down into their individual components and considering those components in isolation. Various forms of modelling are central within systems thinking, with many of the modelling techniques being developed from work originally carried out in engineering and technology settings, but applied to human-centred application domains, in particular organisations and the environment, but also many others. In this chapter we will discuss four quite different systems modelling approaches that have adapted modelling techniques from engineering to studies of humanity: system dynamics (the work of Jay Forrester and others, applied to organisational, economic and ecological systems); the viable systems model of Stafford Beer (applied to organisational systems); the work of Howard Odum on ecological systems; and the systems diagramming approach of the former Faculty of Technology at the Open University.
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Growing complexity and diversity of strategic decisions indicate the need for applying the appropriate holistic tools in strategic decision-making. Thus, the paper deals with the process of strategic decision-making from the viewpoint of systems thinking, with emphasis on the role of values and context in strategic decision-making. The main purpose is to show how systems thinking, through selected systems methodologies, can help decision-makers involve different perceptions and values in the process of strategic decision-making, as well as take into account context in which the strategic decisions are made. Considering the key internal and external factors affecting strategic decision-making (characteristics of decision-makers, organizational characteristics and environmental characteristics), Soft Systems Methodology as interpretive systems methodology and Organizational Cybernetics as functionalist systems methodology have been selected. The way in which they can be combined, aimed at improving effectiveness of strategic decision-making, has been presented.
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This paper presents an account of the coordination of purchasing activities in a firm that offshored their manufacturing operations that later turned problematic. Empirical data is drawn from a single in-depth case study within a large multinational company which was involved in production offshoring in 2009. The paper draws on the viable systems model (VSM) as the main theoretical lens. First, our findings suggest that purchasing coordination is a loose construct; one in which the role and types of information aggregation in the purchasing process is loosely defined compared to the aggregation of volumes and the effectiveness of sourcing teams. This finding partly explains why many cross-functional sourcing problems occur. Second, that organizational and functional contextual differences can no longer be sidelined in discussions of purchasing coordination because they define how the system’s functions interface and therefore are one of the most essential considerations for better purchasing coordination and ultimately organizational viability.
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Growing complexity and diversity of strategic decisions indicate the need for applying the appropriate holistic tools in strategic decision making. Thus, the chapter deals with the process of strategic decision making from the viewpoint of critical systems thinking, with emphasis on the role of values and context in strategic decision making. The main purpose is to show how systems thinking generally and critical systems thinking particularly can help decision makers involve different perceptions and values in the process of strategic decision making, as well as take into account context in which the strategic decisions are made. Considering the key internal and external factors affecting strategic decision making, the authors have selected three systems methodologies stemming from different paradigms: soft systems methodology as interpretive, team syntegrity as emancipatory, and organizational cybernetics as functionalist systems methodology. The way in which they can be combined, aimed at improving effectiveness of strategic decision making, has been presented.
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In every organization, various decisions have to be made continuously, from the simple choice, which customer order to be processed next, to the serious question, whether to select a new supplier or to cancel an existing one. All of these decisions are supported by the provision of relevant information. Therefore the efficiency of a value chain is strongly influenced by the accurate setup of information flows. To make organizations more effective and efficient, one needs to understand what information flows are currently available and how information flows should be designed for a given organization. However, there is hardly any methodology available in order to analyze and redesign information flows in organizations in a structured way. Using the design science research framework, we develop a method for the analysis and design of information flows in organizations. Our research on the Variety Engineering Method (VEM) attempts to develop a method to analyze, diagnose and design information flows. VEM is built based on systems theory and cybernetics, especially the Viable System Model. VEM has been tested internally, and evaluated externally through field studies. In this paper, we present VEM in detail and discuss some general issues involved in its development, including the application of concepts form method engineering and evaluation in field studies.
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The software Viplan learning system is an aid to learn about Beer’s viable system model (VSM) and its application. This is done with the support of the Viplan method. The five activities of this method are explained with examples. First, it offers an approach to understand and discuss organisational identity through analysis of stakeholders. Second, it describes structural modelling of activities, which is followed by the crucial idea in the method of unfolding the organisation’s complexity. Fourth, it shows a tool for studying the distribution of resources and discretion in an organisation. Fifth, and finally, it offers a form of relating these resources to the VSM, thus allowing the development of diagnostic points. The paper ends with a short description of the software itself.
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Let’s consider an improvement method for realizing “Shojinka” (flexible work force), the practice of assigning one man day to each worker. One man day is the operation volume each worker should perform during one day’s regular operating hours and is based on the proper output per hour and per worker. Since knowledge of the actual conditions existing in the work place is very important for this improvement, present performance analysis will be discussed first. The author is indebted to H. Kawaguchi [1990] of Toyota Gosei for this chapter.
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The ultimate purpose of the Toyota production system is to increase profit by reducing costs. Cost reduction is achieved by eliminating waste; waste is exposed and eliminated by Just-in-time (JIT) production. In sales, the JIT concept will be realized by supplying the salable products in salable quantities only. This situation is characterized as production which is promptly adaptable to demand changes. As a result, excess inventories of finished products can be eliminated.
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The design of a complex regulator often includes the making of a model of the system to be regulated. The making of such a model has hitherto been regarded as optional, as merely one of many possible ways.In this paper a theorem is presented which shows, under very broad conditions, that any regulator that is maximally both successful and simple must be isomorphic with the system being regulated. (The exact assumptions are given.) Making a model is thus necessary.The theorem has the interesting corollary that the living brain, so far as it is to be successful and efficient as a regulator for survival, must proceed, in learning, by the formation of a model (or models) of its environment.
My Years with General Motors
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