Systems Thinking and Scope Creep

Project scopeissuesare probably one of the top failure modes for LSS projects. If the scope is too narrow, leadership doesn’t view the effort as important and doesn’t support it. Too broad, and the improvements are either never implemented, or aren’t sustained due to poor implementation and control.


Often out of necessity, projects are chartered and scoped with imperfect data and understanding of the problem. (After all, if the solution was known, launching a project would be unnecessary). By design, DMAIC leads the team through a discovery process that can affect the scope or drive the effort in a new direction entirely.


Systems thinking, on the other hand, challenges us to understand the interconnectedness of all things. Such thinking also shows that seemingly discrete processes usually begin and end beyond the defined scope of a LSS project, beyond the boundaries of the department, or even the organization. Firms like Toyota, Rathyeon, Pratt Whitney and others get this – they work with their customers, suppliers, their suppliers suppliers, and so on to achieve more process stability, efficiency, and quality of inputs and outputs.


On many projects, particularly early on in a deployment, it’s not long before the project team starts to see opportunities everywhere – problems their department causes for others, problems they deal with caused by others. Things can quickly snowball until a well- scoped green belt project turns into solving global warming. Then there’s the individual that tries to bolt on their particular hobby horse issue to another project, often only peripherally affecting the problem at hand.

Handpicked Content:   Upward Management in Healthcare Six Sigma


It takes discipline on the part of the champion, the project leader, and the process owner to maintain the scope of an improvement effort, and stay realistic about what can be accomplished within the timeframe and resource availability of a green belt project.


So how do you, LSS practitioners, balance the need to manage scope creep, while keeping attuned to the broader context in which the projects are taking place? Please reply using the comments section.



Comments 2

  1. Daniel

    I found myself very often in a similar situation. It’s like the bird-egg problem. No project – no background to define baseline and scope, no baseline nor scope – no project. But I found, you can rely on people involved in the process quite good even if they are not able to provide any usefull data.

    Depending on the LSS/6S programme, the define phase is included or excluded in the schedule, it is responsibility of the business or the belt. I don’t want to promote the ’go ahead and define scope later’ approach but if you work closely together with the team, the sponsor and the management, it is much easier to start a fuzzy project, then investigate, then fine-tune scope, then MAI (measure, analyse, improve) and deliver results.

    This is far better than doing nothing. By gaining experience, the business will be more and more able to define ’clear scoped’-projects, as long as the improvements are conclusive and people are willing to adopt the program.

    If there is just a weak acceptance of 6S, little knowledge of processes/business, little experience of the belt then a fuzzy or broad scope will lead to disaster. You will end up ’boiling the ocean’ or you will never deliver what whoever is expecting because a fuzzy scope is a good hint of badly communicated expectations/requirements as well.

  2. Sue Kozlowski

    I agree with Daniel’s comments above. After being told that my first project would be to "fix" an entire service line, I rapidly learned about the perils of scoping too large! I now advise project teams to start small – they will uncover more problems than they can imagine – and use scoping tools such as in-frame/out-of-frame, or circle of influence/circle of control, to understand what can be undertaken in a single project.

    This is a great topic to remind us about – thanks James for your post.

Leave a Reply