Skip to main content

Feasibility-Oriented Application of System Analysis in SMEs-The Cybernetic Approach of VSM Applied to Horticultural Retail Companies in Germany


Many approaches of business analysis focus on single disciplines or specific problems but ignore complex and dynamic interrelations between small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), their stakeholders, and their business environment. In order to meet these challenges, the system analysis tool Vester sensitivity model (VSM) is applied on a reference company representative of the German horticultural retail sector. Based on the principles of system theory and (bio-) cybernetics, the VSM system building tool uses net thinking, heuristics, and a participatory approach to illustrate and evaluate the systemic role of relevant key variables, and their interrelations in the example company. In this article, the analytical steps of the VSM are applied up to the finalized effect system model of the reference company. As an innovative aspect, the article emphasizes how the multilevel process of the system analysis can be put into practice more effectively by using interactive media tools to enable the required communication and consensus by the participating stakeholder panel. Elements such as the manager’s ability of strategic planning, the organizational climate, and the company’s image were uncovered as critical, but also stabilizing key factors for such companies. Although the study focuses on the specific situation of German horticultural retail companies as the research subject, the suggested procedure of integrated knowledge generation is transferrable to any business, industry branch, and country. Especially scholars, advisors, and business analysts working in the field of SME management can use the concept to evaluate such systems in the overall context of the companies under investigation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5


  1. A selection of published studies is listed on:

  2. Variables illustrated by their numeration (compare also Table 4 on the next page and Appendix Table 5 for variable names and definition).


  • Altmann M (1984) Konsumententypologie auf dem Zierpflanzenmarkt. Forschungsberichte zur Ökonomie im Gartenbau. Ph.D. dissertation, Universities of Hannover and Weihenstephan

  • AMI (2013) Markt Report Zierpflanzen 2012. Agrarmarkt Informations-Gesellschaft mbH, Bonn

    Google Scholar 

  • Bammer G (2005) Integration and implementation sciences: building a new specialization. Ecol Soc 10(2):6. Accessed Sept 2015

  • Barney JB (1991) Firm resources and sustained competitive advantage. J Manag 17(1):99–120

    Google Scholar 

  • Behr HC, Niehues R (2009) Markt und Absatz. In Dirksmeyer W (ed) Status quo und Perspektiven des deutschen Produktionsgartenbau. vTi- Landbauforschung No. 330, Braunschweig, pp 69–98

  • Bird B (1995) Towards a theory of entrepreneurial competency. Adv Entrep Firm Emerg Growth 2:51–72

    Google Scholar 

  • Bitsch V (1994) Erfolgsfaktorenorientierte Jahresabschlussanalyse. Agrarwirtschaft 43(10):369–376

    Google Scholar 

  • Bitsch V (1995) Consistency of performance of horticultural firms. Acta Hortic 391:165–172

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bleicher K (2004) Das Konzept integriertes Management. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt

    Google Scholar 

  • BMEL (2014) Statistisches Jahrbuch über Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Forsten No. 58. German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Landwirtschaftsverlag, Münster-Hiltrup

  • Bokelmann W (1987) Conceptual framework and empirical investigations about decision processes in horticultural production. Forschungsberichte zur Ökonomie im Gartenbau 63, Hanover

  • Bokelmann W (2009) Wertschöpfungsketten im Gartenbau. In Dirksmeyer W (ed) Status quo und Perspektiven des deutschen Produktionsgartenbau. vTi- Landbauforschung No. 330, Braunschweig, pp 115–130

  • Brexendorf J (2012) Komplexität in Kooperationen – eine empirisch basierte Analyse unter der Anwendung des Sensititivitätsmodells. Ph.D. dissertation, University of St. Gallen

  • Burkhard, C (2006) TQM-Trendmatrix – Methode zur prognostischen Analyse unternehmensspezifischer Wirkungen von TQM-Maßnahmen. Ph.D. dissertation, Technical University Cottbus

  • Chan SL, Huang SL (2004) A systems approach for the development of a sustainable community—the application of the sensitivity model (SM). J Environ Manag 72(3):133–147

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dirksmeyer W, Fluck K (2013) Wirtschaftliche Bedeutung des Gartenbausektors in Deutschland. Thünen Report 2. Braunschweig: Thünen-Institut für Betriebswirtschaft

  • Freiling J (2001) Resource-based view und ökonomische Theorie: Grundlagen und Positionierung des Ressourcenansatzes. Gabler-Verlag, Wiesbaden

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Freisl J (2011) Entwicklung eines systemischen Managementansatzes zur Bewertung von Wirkungszusammenhängen in unternehmerischen Strukturen mittels kausalanalytischer Methoden. Ph.D. dissertation, Ruhr-University Bochum

  • Gabriel A, Menrad K, Schöps J (2012) Determination and evaluation of success factors for the traditional horticultural retail depending on individual operating aims. Acta Hortic 930:107–113

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Huang SL, Yeh CT, Budd WW, Chen LL (2009) A Sensitivity Model (SM) approach to analyze urban development in Taiwan based on sustainability indicators. Environ Impact Assess Rev 29(2):116–125

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kaim E, Fluck K, Altmann M (2012) Typology of German consumers on the market for ornamental plants. Paper presented at second symposium on horticulture in Europe. 1st–5th July, Angers

  • Kretschmer R (2009) Anforderungen an gärtnerische Nachwuchskräfte. Paper presented at the Zukunftskongress Gartenbau, Berlin, September

  • Lentz W (1994) Supporting farmers decision making—research strategies between formal and descriptive approaches. Paper presented at the 38th EAAE seminar, Copenhagen, October

  • Malik F (2009) Systemisches Management, Evolution, Selbstorganisation. Haupt Verlag, Bern

    Google Scholar 

  • Mitchelmore S, Rowley J (2010) Entrepreneurial competencies: a literature review and development agenda. Int J Entrep Behav Res 16(2):92–111

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mole K (2004) System theory and the common-sense view of advisers. J Small Bus Enterp Dev 11(1):114–120

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Newig J, Gaube V, Berkhoff K, Kaldrak K, Kastens B, Lutz J, Schlussmeier B, Adensam H, Haberl H (2008) The role of formalization, participation and context in the success of public involvement mechanisms in resource management. Syst Pract Action Res 21(6):423–441

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pieper TM, Klein SB (2007) The bullseye: a systems approach to modeling family firms. Fam Bus Rev 20(4):301–319

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pohl C, Hirsch Hadorn G (2008) Methodological challenges of transdisciplinary research. Nat Sci Soc 16:111–121. Accessed Sept 2015

  • Riordan DA, Riordan MP (1993) Field theory: an alternative to system theories in understanding the small family business. J Small Bus Manag 31(2):66–78

    Google Scholar 

  • Schlange EL (1994) Komplexität praktisch handhaben. In: Schüller A, Schlange LE (eds) Komplexität und Managementpraxis. Enke, Stuttgart, pp 159–166

    Google Scholar 

  • Schlange EL, Jüttner U (1997) Helping managers to identify the key strategic issues. Long Range Plan 30(5):777–786

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schöps J, Menrad K, Gabriel A (2012) Drivers for customer satisfaction within the traditional German horticultural retail. Acta Hortic 930:175–182

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schwaninger M (2001) System theory and cybernetics: a solid basis for transdisciplinarity in management education and research. Kybernetes 30(9):1209–1222

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schwaninger M (2004) Methodologies in conflict: achieving synergies between system dynamics and organizational cybernetics. Syst Res 21:411–413

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schwarz U (2009) Erfolgsfaktoren für den Dienstleistungssektor im Gartenbau - Eine theoretische und empirische Untersuchung. Ph.D. dissertation, Technical University of Munich

  • Singh RK, Garg SK, Deshmukh SG (2008) Strategy development by SMEs for competiveness: a review. Benchmarking 15(5):525–547

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ulrich H (2001) Systemorientiertes Management. Haupt Verlag, Bern

    Google Scholar 

  • Ulrich W (2005) Can nature teach us good research practice? A critical look at Frederic Vester’s bio-cybernetic systems approach. J Res Pract 1(1): Article R2. Accessed 20 Aug 2014

  • Vester F (1988) The biocybernetic approach as a basis for planning our environment. Syst Pract 1(4):399–413

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vester F (2001) Sensitivity Model Prof. Vester® Handbook. Commercial software package, original version 1991. Frederic Vester GmbH, Munich

  • Vester F (2007) The art of interconnected thinking. MCB-Publishing House, Munich

    Google Scholar 

  • Vester F, Hesler AV (1982) The sensitivity model. Umland-Verband, Frankfurt

    Google Scholar 

  • Wolf C, Persson F, Jelse, K (2012) A logistic analysis with the sensitivity model Prof. Vester. IVL report B2024, Swedish Environmental Research Institute, Stockholm

  • Zadeh LA, Klir GJ, Yuan B (1996) Fuzzy sets, fuzzy logic, and fuzzy systems. In: Klir GJ, Yuan B (eds) Selected papers by Lofti and Zadeh. World Scientific, Singapore

    Google Scholar 

  • ZBG (2014) Sector report of Horticultural Retail Companies 2013. Center for Business Management in Horticulture, Hannover. Accessed 18 Nov 2014

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to A. Gabriel.



See Table 5 and Fig. 5

Table 5 Variable definitions

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Gabriel, A., Bitsch, V. & Menrad, K. Feasibility-Oriented Application of System Analysis in SMEs-The Cybernetic Approach of VSM Applied to Horticultural Retail Companies in Germany. Syst Pract Action Res 30, 145–172 (2017).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Business analysis
  • Participatory approach
  • Retail companies
  • Small and medium-sized enterprises
  • System theory
  • Vester sensitivity model