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Holistic Methodologies: The Hunting of the Snark

Holistic Methodologies are often seen as developing as a reaction to the perceived problems of semi-formal methodologies. One of the most important and influential of these holistic methodologies is Peter Checkland's Soft Systems Methodology (SSM). Checkland claims that the origin of SSM lies in: "... the belief that, in the words of West Churchman, 'The systems approach is not a bad idea'. The systems approach referred to here is General Systems Theory, which tries to deal with reality as an indivisible whole. Consequently we call this approach to software design the holistic strand, in recognition of the way in which it attempts to deal with the problem 'as a whole'.

Holistic Methodologies - a summary

Holistic methodologies attempt to deal with software descriptions that are both open and incomplete and adopt an anti-realist ontology and empiricist epistemology. In these approaches to systems design, there is no common point of reference for different stakeholders and every aspect of systems design is open to challenge. In essence, holistic software design methods abandon any notion of a potential link between program design and software design and concentrate solely on the problems of software design and by doing so, proponents claim these methods give a better appreciation of the problems that actually need solving.

Holistic Methodologies - pros and cons


Because holistic methodologies are unencumbered by the need to maintain a link to the assumptions needed for program design many claim that their primary advantage is that they can facilitate the identification and resolution of underlying problems - the solution to which may or may not involve the construction of an information system. It is claimed by some that in doing so, such approaches can ease the transition between the messy world of the human activity system and the more ordered world of the systems designer. Consequently, holistic methods are often seen as a way to achieve a better 'fit' between the needs of the systems designer and the user before employing one of the more 'traditional' systems design methods.


Some of the weaknesses of holistic approaches are obvious, because the link to programs has been severed, holistic methodologies do not necessarily provide much guidance about how to implement the solution. Similarly, they are criticised for not providing much in the way of goals and targets that could be used to manage a project. Because every aspect of the design is open to challenge, these approaches are also criticised as being both too reliant on the skill and impartiality of the analyst who needs to manage the discourse and too demanding of users time and energy who have to engage with and participate in the process in a way that other methodologies do not require.




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A practical example

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Lecture notes

The notes for this session are available as a presentation (in pdf format) - lecture notes for session 7

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