What are methods and how to apply them?

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


(The text is still in progress.)


What are methods?

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."
(http://www.informatikbegriffsnetz.de/arbeitskreise/vorgehensmodelle/themenbereiche/prinzipMethodeWerkzeug.html, 12.02.14, my translation)


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

Method = Way to Goal - www.learn-study-work.org

Figure 1: Method = way to a goal (www.stuwap.org, 08.02.19)


The way to a goal starts from an initial situation. A situation is a system at a  certain time.


Now there are two possibilities:


1. The execution of the method is a task
Often the goal and the way from the initial situation to the goal (the method) are known and it is possible to execute the method. If this is the case, the way to the goal is the execution of a task.

2. The execution of the method is a problem

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). To solve a problem see "How to solve  problems?".


How to execute a method?

A good wayy to understanf how methods are applied is to study a norm of the International Standard Organisation driscribing the execution of a method.


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 here 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.


(For an example of a situation analysis see "How to analyze situations?")

Situation Analysis = System Analysis - www.learn-study-work.org

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 - www.learn-study-work.org

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."
(http://www.informatikbegriffsnetz.de/arbeitskreise/vorgehensmodelle/themenbereiche/prinzipMethodeWerkzeug.html, 12.02.14, my translation)

Model - Method - learn-study-work.org