How to use Methods?

Key message: A method is the way to a goal.


A method is a systematically planned way to a specific goal. Nobody wants to wait for coincidence to reach a goal. No one can reach a goal if he / she does not know what it looks like.


Systematically planned means the plan was devellopped "based on a system". A system is a set of elements that are interrelated.The behavior of a system is the result of the interaction of all its elements, so a systematic method takes into account all the elements that affect the path to the goal (see below).


The way to the goal is fixed in a writen systematic instruction (method regulation).


"Methods are well-planned, well-founded procedures for achieving defined goals (generally within the framework of defined principles). ... A method is a systematic instruction for action (procedure) to solve tasks of a certain class. It is based on one or more principles. The instruction describes how, based on given conditions, a goal can be achieved with a defined sequence of steps."
(, 12.02.14, my translation)


From an initial situation, the goal is achieved by applying a method step-by-step:

Method = Way to Goal

Figure 1: Method = way to a goal (, 08.02.19)


The way to a goal starts from an initial situation. A situation is a system at a  certain time. Often the goal and the way from the initial situation to the goal (the method) are known. If this is the case, the way to the goal is the execution of a task.


If I am dissatisfied with an initial situation (the current situation), but at the moment I am not able to achieve a desired target situation, then I have a problem. In the case of a problem, there don't exist clear ideas about the desired goal or the means to achieve the goal are unknown or an obstacle must be overcome on the way to the goal (e.g. the required means may be known but not available).


"If there is a problem there is a discrepancy between an actual and a desired value, there is a barrier between the two states [that needs to be overcome] ... A task is a mental requirement, but the methods of coping with it are known. ...
The difference between problem and task depends on prior knowledge, ... i.e. the same situation can be a task for one person and a problem for another ... " (, S. 11, 02.04.14,
pages 1 - 13 are of interest, my translation)

In order to solve a problem, three main steps must always be carried out:

  1. analyze the problem and the goal
  2. generate several alternative solutions (promising methods)
  3. make a decision (select a method).

(Lindemann, U.(2009). Methodische Entwicklung technischer Produkte. Heidelberg: Springer, S. 46, my translation)

1. How to analyze the problem and the goal?

First, the initial situation has to be analyzed in detail. This is done by a situation analysis. The purpose of the situation analysis is to understand why I am dissatisfied with the initial situation and what makes it difficult to change this situation.

What is a situation analysis?

To analyze a situation, first determine the border of the situation (= system) you want to look at. Secondly identify the main elements that significantly influence the situation (marked in red in the picture). The relationships between the elements are governed by rules. Therefore, the important rules that apply to the relationships between the main elements must be recognized. From these rules, the main rules for the situation can be derived. That's how the situation can be understood.


In a third step, the rules for the relationships of the less important elements can be examined. This is how the situation can be understood in detail.

Situation Analysis = System Analysis

Figure 2: Situation Analysis = System Analysis


Example: Analyzing an emergency situation

What do I get asked when I report an emergency? I am asked the W questions: where did something happen? What happened? Who is calling? Waiting for questions from the control center!


In the emergency call query, the control centre of the Cologne fire brigade developed "different rules for rescue service, fire and assistance. In general, the first question is: Where?. ... "If the call immediately breaks off again, we must at least know where we have an emergency" ... Only then does the "what?" come up. And this results in a pre-alarm. The rescue forces recognize by the sound whether the fire brigade or the rescue service is being alerted and run to the vehicles. …“
, 28.10.18, my translation)


The emergency call query shows: The first main element of the emergency situation is the emergency location. The next main element is the emergency object: Is it a burning house, a traffic accident or a serious illness? Then there is the human element. How many people are affected? From the answers, the emergency centre knows which rules it has to apply and what kind of rescue services it has to send. Detailed information is not important in the first analysis.


With the right questions it is possible to analyze a situation.


"The right question is... often more than half the way to solving the problem." (Heisenberg W. (1979) Quantentheorie und Philosophie. Stuttgart)

How to analyze and set a goal?

A goal is a desired future result, which is precisely determined in terms of content, time and scope.


Once i have understood the initial situation, I have a rough idea how to improve this situation and I can set a rough goal. However, it makes no sense to set an unrealistic goal. A perfect goal is not achievable. The best goal is an optimal one. Optimal means efficient. The quality of the goal (the result) must be compared with the effort required to achieve it.

Model - Efficiency
Model - Efficiency

A goal is not an isolated target value, but a target situation (target system). This is because the target value is related to other elements of a target situation, as the following example shows:


A football team won a game. At first glance, it has achieved its goal. Unfortunately, three important players were seriously injured during the match and two others were shown the red card, so they are banned for the next matches. So the target situation is not satisfactory at all.

2. How to generate promising methods?

Methods are based on one or more principles. A principle represents a given law that is superior to other laws.


"A principle is understood as a universal principle derived from the generalization of laws and essential properties of objective reality and serves as a guide."
(, 12.02.14, my translation)

model - method
model - method