To read this content please select one of the options below:

Guidance on applying the viable system model

Sandra Hildbrand (Graduate School of Business and Leadership, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa)
Shamim Bodhanya (Graduate School of Business and Leadership, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 2 February 2015




Although many cases where viable system model (VSM) was successfully applied exist, hardly any literature advises the novice VSM user regarding the accomplishment of a VSM diagnosis. The purpose of this paper is to show practitioners and researchers how to conduct a VSM diagnosis. The paper further seeks to encourage others to apply VSM and to share their experience with using VSM.


The paper provides detailed guidelines on how to conduct a VSM diagnosis in conjunction with qualitative research methods. It outlines the data collection, analysis and presentation of results.


VSM is an outstanding diagnostic tool. Qualitative research methods provide access to the essential information for the VSM diagnosis and should be used in iteration with VSM. They can enhance the VSM diagnosis by focusing on the soft aspects in the investigated system. The VSM language needs to be adapted to the specific context in which VSM is used and VSM can be applied in a participatory manner. Further research needs to explore possibilities to strengthen the handling of detected shortcomings that were revealed during the VSM diagnosis.

Research limitations/implications

This paper is based on one experience with the VSM application and other VSM users might provide different insights.


There is little practical advice in existing literature regarding the accomplishment of a VSM diagnosis. This paper addresses that gap. In addition, VSM has not been applied to a sugarcane production and supply system before.



This research was funded by the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) and the National Research Foundation. The authors would also like to thank the various industry stakeholders who gave up their time to participate in a number of interviews and workshops. The members of the project team are thanked for their support and valuable input. Administration and support staff at the University of KwaZulu-Natal are thanked for their continuous support. This work is largely based on the doctoral dissertation of the first author.


Hildbrand, S. and Bodhanya, S. (2015), "Guidance on applying the viable system model", Kybernetes, Vol. 44 No. 2, pp. 186-201.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles