Hard systems

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In systems science Hard systems is a title sometimes used to differentiate between different types of systems problems. It is opposing soft systems.


Although soft systems thinking treats all problems as ill-defined or not easily quantified, hard systems approaches (systems analysis (structured methods), operations research and so on) assume that:

  • the problems associated with such systems are well-defined
  • they have a single, optimum solution
  • a scientific approach to problem-solving will work well
  • technical factors will tend to predominate


In hard systems approaches (or Structured Systems Analysis and Design Methodology (SSADM)), rigid techniques and procedures are used to provide unambiguous solutions to well-defined data and processing problems. These focus on computer implementations.

In Soft systems methodology (SSM), a "toolbox" of techniques can be used at the discretion of the analyst. These focus on improvements to organisational problems.

Systems Thinking[edit]

According to Peter Checkland, ‘Systems Thinking’ is composed of two complementary processes:

Checkland draws attention to these two alternative paradigms to explain the nature and significance of Systems Thinking:

  • Paradigm 1 - the world is considered to be systemic and is studied systematically
  • Paradigm 2 - the world is problematic (I.e. it admits to many different interpretations) and we study it systemically

Now the first paradigm reflects the notion of Hard Systems Thinking and the second reflects the notion of Soft Systems Thinking. Hard Systems Thinking can be characterised as having an objective or end to be achieved, and a system can be engineered to achieve the stated objective. Soft Systems Thinking can be characterised as having a desirable end, but the means to achieve it and the actual outcome are not easily quantified.

Developments in Hard Systems Thinking[edit]

Began to emerge as a distinct philosophy in the 1950s

See also[edit]