Different Levels of a Process - Viable System Model

An organization can be viewed as a collection of processes. At the grass root level, an organization is nothing but an arrangement of humans and technologies in a specific manner to achieve pre-determined objectives. However, work is divided amongst various processes to increase efficiency and effectiveness. However the functions of all processes are not the same. There is considerable ambiguity with regards to how many types of processes actually exist to make an organization viable and independent.

One such paradigm has been offered by Prof. Stafford Beer, wherein he talks about at least 5 different levels on which processes need to function to make the organization viable. The model is taken from the analogy of human mind which directs the body at different levels. The model is called the Viable System Model and has 5 levels of processes namely S1, S2, S3, S4 and S5. Although a detailed description of each of these levels is beyond our scope, here is a basic introduction to create a basis for further discussion.

Viable System Model: Process Levels

  • S1: This level is comprised of the basic activities that the organization needs to do. A better way to understand this would be to consider it the operations department of an organization. It assumes that all inputs have been provided as and when required and is concerned with efficient processing of those inputs and their conversion into the desired outputs.

  • S2: This level is composed of all the supporting functions like HR, Finance, and Marketing etc. The objective of this level is to ensure that S1 gets all the inputs like men, money and materials as and when required. Any delays or bottlenecks at this level have their effect on the efficiency of S1 activities. These groups of activities are also called “Support Functions” in contemporary management jargon.

  • S3: This level is concerned with oversight and control over S1 and S2 activities. Their primary function is control over the operations of the organization. This is the most important part of the internal organization of any firm. If the control procedures are not efficient enough, the principal-agency problem rears its ugly head. Simply put this means that moral issues arise and working for the best interest of the organization may not be the best choice for an employee. Therefore control systems are required to prevent this from happening by keeping a vigilant watch.

  • S4: This is the beginning of higher order systems. The focus here is more focuses towards the environment. The existence of any organization is contingent upon an environment. For instance there must be a certain level of demand to consume the output of the firm, certain level of materials and men to provide input for the firm and so on. Any changes in the factors have consequences on the organization. Therefore, S4 processes are meant to keep a watch on the environment and provide information so that necessary changes and alterations can be made. This is usually the middle management of an organization

  • S5: This level looks at the internal and external situation of an organization and tries to align both of them. These processes are usually called “strategic” in nature and are under the direct oversight of senior management. The primary activity here is decision making and effects are seen throughout the organization and its environment.

This is a very comprehensive level of detail covering all aspects of the structure and arrangement of processes. Usually a simpler approach is followed which divides the processes into three groups:

  • S1 and S2 form the operational group
  • S3 forms the control structure
  • S4 and S5 are called strategic in nature.

They have been further explained in subsequent sections.

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