2.4.2 A systems map
Mapping a system is like mapping a town. First we define the boundary and draw it on paper. The boundary separates those places inside the town from those outside. We do the same with the system. We show the system boundary with rounded corners to emphasise the imprecise nature of the boundary that separates those things that are interacting inside the system from those outside in the environment that have an effect on it.
We become selective when we draw a map. We consider the purpose of the map and choose a suitable scale. We include on the map only those things that are useful to our purpose.
Figure 13 shows the system boundary and the smaller subsystems inside the boundary. We include all those things that help our use of the map. A system is defined by what it does and shows only those components (those subsystems) that contribute to this output.
The environment of the system lies outside the system boundary. In the environment of our system, we include all those things that are outside the system but have an effect on it.
In reality, the systems you consider at work may reside within your team and the near environment of the system will be the organisation you work for. Your system may be influenced by the structures and organisational cultures that surround you. Further away there may be important environmental factors such as national economic conditions or the legal and political framework.
Systems diagrams can become impossibly complicated if you try to include too many elements. Show only the most influential ones.
Box 2: Important points about systems maps
A system map shows the boundary of the system and the different subsystems inside the boundary. It may also show important influences outside the boundary, that is, in the external environment.
A map is a map. It does not have arrows showing relationships or influences between the subsystems.
The scale and the detail depend on the purpose of the system map. Keep the map as simple as possible to aid clarity.
Ensure the map is clearly labelled. All boundaries and subsystems need to be clearly identified.
In changing a system, we have to draw the existing real-life system and the new system we would wish it to be. To transform the existing system into the new one requires systems interventions.