08 Apr Taking the 4MAT approach to modelling

This post follows my previous post Modeling as a way of Thinking and expand my thoughts on how thinking is the core of modelling.

What is presented below is an approach to modeling using the 4MAT model. It is presented as a process in the order that we use to model. It does not define everything that is needed to model, but explains key questions that must be answered in order to create a comprehensive and accurate model.  It assumes that several things are clarified before modeling starts, for example:

  • Strategy: the strategic objectives of the organization is known together with all the appropriate detailed strategies. For example: If a requirements model of a system is modeled, the solution strategy should be defined.
  • Model scope: A high level macro definition of the modeling project should be defined for detail models to elaborate on.
  • Boundaries: The boundaries of the area to be modeled should be clear and known by the participants
  • Right audience: the right audience should be present. This is such an obvious requirement, but it is staggering how many times, the right people are not in the room when the model is created.

4MAT is a learning and communication theoretical framework that can be used to expand thinking around modeling by exploring in turn the perspectives of meaning, concepts, skills and adaptation. Or more simply put it elaborates on knowledge and understanding by answering the questions of Why, What, How and What If.

The discussion below are using the example of a process model.

The first question we answer is Why? In context of the process being modeled: Why is this process important? Why does it exist? Answering the why question seeks not only the purpose of the model, but also its relevance in term of business and other strategies. If the reason for the process existing, or its link to strategy cannot be clearly expressed, it may be an indication that the process is either unnecessary, contextually out of place, or that strategy is either not clearly defined, or may even be missing key components. If a clear purpose and link to strategic objectives can be found, we can go ahead and elaborate on the process. Once the Why question is satisfactorily answered we can move on to the next question.

The What question explores what is accomplished by the process. It may explore what are the triggers of the process, what resources are used, what the outputs generated are, what events are triggered in the larger system are and what the outcomes are that is achieved by the process. It may include exploring what specific things are done in the process and what steps are taken.

The How question explores the sequence in which steps in the process is executed. It explores the behavioral logic behind the execution of the process. It explores the current scenarios that may play out through the process, how each scenario is created through an event that triggers the process to be executed and the output events that are created in the larger system.

The last question is What If? This question allows the modeler and the audience to investigate what if scenarios. It considers the robustness of the process for future business behavior and considers behaviors that may emerge under extreme and unplanned for business, or system, events. Although it may not cater for extreme, or unknown events, it is important to have a process that has good error and exception management that would handle any unknown behavior.

So, in conclusion: In terms of modeling a good model it is useful to add to the workshop agenda the 4MAT questions. It may just allow for the good analysis and synthesis questions that will make the model a well-thought out and sustainable one that serves the model’s audience for years to come.