System Boundary

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“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.
For example, the productivity of one project operation may be enhanced to the detriment of another operation viewed as outside the system. Let’s say you have two projects, (one in, and one outside of system boundaries), when accomplishing the tasks in one project, means the same resources in the other won’t be available. Is this good and intended, or on the contrary, bad and unintended, and why? Hence, we must question, in a critical sense, our boundary judgements, i.e. justify the boundary choices made in terms of their consequences and reassess them as we learn more about the Integrated PM system.

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:

  1. future behavior of the environment, will be similar to past behavior,
  2. changes in the current system outputs, will have no effect on relevant inputs into the future system,
  3. and the system has no control over these inputs and outputs, when in fact such input control is possible.
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