Definition

In the preceding sections the word "systems" has been used rather loosely. The exact definition of a system depends on the users, environment, and ultimate goal. Business practitioners define a system as:

A group of elements, either human or nonhuman, that is organized and arranged in such a way that the elements can act as a whole toward achieving some common goal or objective.

Systems are collections of interacting subsystems that, if properly organized, can provide a synergistic output. Systems are characterized by their boundaries or interface conditions. For example, if the business firm system were completely isolated from the environmental system, then a closed system would exist, in which case management would have complete control over all system components. If the business system reacts with the environment, then the system is referred to as open. All social systems, for example, are categorized as open systems. Open systems must have permeable boundaries.

If a system is significantly dependent on other systems for its survival, then it is an extended system. Not all open systems are extended systems. Extended systems are ever-changing and can impose great hardships on individuals who desire to work in a regimented atmosphere.

Military and government organizations were the first to attempt to define the boundaries of systems, programs, and projects. Below are two definitions for systems:

• Air Force Definition: A composite of equipment, skills, and techniques capable of performing and/or supporting an operational role. A complete system includes related facilities, equipment, material services, and personnel required for its operation to the degree that it can be considered as a self-sufficient unit in its intended operational and/or support environment.

• NASA Definition: One of the principal functioning entities comprising the project hardware within a project or program. The meaning may vary to suit a particular project or program area. Ordinarily a "system" is the first major subdivision of project work (spacecraft systems, launch vehicle systems).

Programs can be construed as the necessary first-level elements of a system. Two representative definitions of programs are given below:

• Air Force Definition: The integrated, time-phased tasks necessary to accomplish a particular purpose.

• NASA Definition: A relative series of undertakings that continue over a period of time (normally years) and that are designed to accomplish a broad, scientific or technical goal in the NASA long-range plan (lunar and planetary exploration, manned spacecraft systems).

Programs can be regarded as subsystems. However, programs are generally defined as time-phased efforts, whereas systems exist on a continuous basis.

Projects are also time-phased efforts (much shorter than programs) and are the first level of breakdown of a program. A typical definition would be:

• NASA/Air Force Definition: A project is within a program as an undertaking that has a scheduled beginning and end, and that normally involves some primary purpose.

As shown in Table 2-4, the government sector tends to run efforts as programs, headed by a program manager. The majority of the industrial sector, on the other hand,

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Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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