Functional management system

The functional management system model

The "Functional Management System" model is an approach to managing human factors from a systemic perspective. It was first developed as a model for assessing the management of health and safety (Perezgonzalez, 20051), but it can also be used for managing other outputs and processes within systems.

The main feature of the model is that it calls for a dynamic way of managing, more focused on functions than on structures. That is, it is always calling for a re-assessment of the different purposes of the system (eg, patient's health and safety) and how its elements function in ensuring such purpose (eg, the expertise of healthcare providers). Such re-assessment then motivates any necessary adjustments of processes and structures in order to align them with the system purposes. The core of the management system are, obviously, tangible structures, as these are the only one that can actually be managed. But the functioning of the system is not just about having those structures per se but in maintaining then as long as they help achieve the system's purposes.

(Image adapted from Perezgonzalez, 20051)

The model, in its simplified version, has the following features:

  • Outputs and outcomes conform the outputs of the system. The model differentiate between outputs (which can be managed directly, eg by actions) and outcomes (which can only be managed by way of producing the antecedent outputs).

A medical diagnostic and subsequent prescription are outputs (the former is a product of thinking and decision making, while the later is a 'logical' product dependent on the former); a patient's ultimate health depends on the correctness of that diagnosis and prescription, among other things. The doctor cannot directly manage health but indirectly by way of a good diagnosis and prescription.

  • Performers are those elements in the system which produce the outputs and manage the system itself. Performers are to be understood in a wide manner, including not only individual humans but also groups, automated technology and the immediate environment. Performers can be divided into operatives (who produce the outputs), managers (who 'produce' the outputs by way of influencing the operatives, and also manage the overall system), and actioning agents (who mostly recover the system from emergencies). Again, the important aspect here is not so much what type of performer one may be but which role is that performer playing at the time.

A person with a title of manager who is doing a diagnosis is an operator. The operator of a cardiopulmonary bypass machine is actually in the role of a manager, as he commands the machine to do certain things and is monitoring it does it as expected; the real operator, the one doing the work, is the machine itself.

  • Important throughputs in the system are elements such as expertise and awareness. The system aims to posses and manage these elements, however it cannot manage them directly but indirectly, by way of managing antecedent operations such as training and communication.
  • The core elements in the model are operations that can be managed directly, such as training (knowledge acquired, books read, experience obtained…). Yet, possessing these core elements are not what the system is about: they serve the purpose of achieving the system's throughputs, such as expertise. Thus, maintaining particular structures depends on how well they are working in providing the subsequent throughputs.

For example, the purpose of training is to manage expertise (eg, increasing it). This can be achieved by gaining a formal degree (eg, a bachelor in nursing), taking other courses, on-the-job experience, etc, which rely on particular materials (ie, structures): books, examinations, simulations, time on-the-job, etc. However, what is important for the system is not just gaining a particular degree or having a number of years of job experience but the level of expertise gained. This purpose cannot be achieved without the former structures, yet these structures should be changed any time they are not 'functioning' optimally in achieving the overall purpose of the system.

  • Prior to these are operations at the level of inputs, such as selection (which filters what comes into or out of the system) and senior management commitment (which 'colors' how the overall system and its elements really work).

Selection can, for example, facilitate the initial management of expertise by letting into the system people with certain level of such expertise (eg, licensed doctors and nurses). Senior management commitment 'colors' the overall system in the sense that it will not work well if management commitment is weak or contradictory (eg, openly embracing a safety-first approach but really pushing for cost-cutting).

1. PEREZGONZALEZ Jose D (2005). An alternative way of managing health & safety. Pergonomas/Lulu Inc (USA), 2005. ISBN 9781411634312.

Want to know more?

Outputs and outcomes


Jose D PEREZGONZALEZ (2011). Massey University, New Zealand (JDPerezgonzalezJDPerezgonzalez).

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