“If we use Integrated PM Systems for our projects, then we can get better project Performance, but it helps to learn a little about systems thinking.”
We choose to define a system as follows:
1. A system is an organized assembly of components. 'Organized' means that there exist special relationships between the components. In the Integrated PM System, components include tasks, issues, requirements, market evidence, problem statements, goals, and risks. The ‘organized’ condition would include WBS features such as parent-child relationships, predecessors, and other policies and procedures.
2. The system does something, i.e. it exhibits behaviors that are unique to the system. The accomplishment of a goal can be the ‘something’, but systems may not accomplish the goal and still be a system. The behavior indicated here is a sequence of state variable changes. Every project has a unique sequence of state variable changes, and is that system’s behavior up to that point of time.
3. Each component contributes towards the behavior of the system and its own behavior is affected by being in the system. No component has an independent effect on the system. A part that has an independent effect and is not affected by the system is an input. (See #5 below.) The behavior of the system is changed if any component is removed or leaves.
4. Groups of components within the system may by themselves have properties (1), (2), and (3), i.e. they may form subsystems. Without 1,2, and 3 then they are just components, not subsystems.
5. The system has an outside - an environment - which provides inputs into the system and receives outputs from the system.
6. The system has been identified by someone to be of special interest for a given purpose or goal.
“If we have clear system boundaries, then we can limit the amount of conflicts experienced, but we may have to reevaluate program and portfolio boundaries which are typically based on business unit responsibilities.”
System Boundary and Relevant Environment
The separation between the project system and its environment means that there must be a boundary. In fact, boundary selection is the most critical aspect of systems thinking for projects. Boundary choice determines:
- the nature of the system’s transformation process (which all systems must have),
- the form of the project’s outputs,
- who will benefit from the desirable outputs,
- and who will suffer undesirable consequences.
Similarly, what is considered the relevant environment and what is ignored as irrelevant, gives rise also to critical boundary judgements, i.e. the choice of boundary for the relevant environment. For example, at what point can an aspect in the environment be viewed as insignificant and hence be ignored.
For each boundary choice, the project planner must be on the lookout for implied assumptions or boundary judgements. For example, an Integrated PM System impacting future process efficiencies of a business unit that uses past data to estimate inputs will contain several implied assumptions:
- future behavior of the environment, will be similar to past behavior,
- changes in the current system outputs, will have no effect on relevant inputs into the future system,
- and the system has no control over these inputs and outputs, when in fact such input control is possible.