Boundary Relaxation

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The problem boundary is defined here as the imaginary line between what a problem is, must be, should be, or could be, and what it isn’t, mustn’t be, shouldn’t be, or couldn’t be. This approach works in two stages: first, by identifying the elements of the boundary; then seeing how far they can be loosened.

See also Multiple Redefinition and Boundary Examination.

Identifying the boundary

The boundary can be identified and defined by a number of different techniques;

  • By stating what the issues isn't: Take each significant term in a problem statement and define it more clearly by saying what it is not, for example:
          How to design       not guess, make up, draw…
          a handset           not hands free, remote…
          to replace 	       not alter, modify, change colour..
          the telephone       not the radio, pager, computer...
  • Research: Boundary conditions not mentioned in the problem statement may often be found by researching or generally ‘asking around’. Sometimes you may need to ‘read between the lines’.
  • Checklists: Similar problems often share similar boundaries, so checklists can be helpful. For instance, most managerial problem solving has to work within upper (and sometimes lower) limits of:
    • approval authorization, legality, regulations, due process …
    • resources money, skill, people, time, equipment …
    • prior investments structure, plant, suppliers, markets, image …
    • Acceptability levels of intrusion, change, spread of information…
    • Involve mentor non-alienation staff, customers, stakeholders, etc.
  • Boundary Brainstorming: You can use brainstorming and nominal group methods to generate lists of issues or components that might be inside the problem boundary, outside it but in the near environment, and remoter from it. Check them with people involved in the problem, and define the boundary by sorting these items into those definitely inside the boundary, definitely outside it and possibly negotiable.

Relaxing the boundaries

Once a boundary feature has been identified clearly, then it is usually relatively simple to ask yourself and/or others involved: ‘Would it help if this part of the boundary could be altered in some way – and if so, how and when?’

It may be easier to get temporary shifting of a boundary by discreetly ‘bending’ it and making sure nothing goes wrong, than by trying to get formal permission to alter it. As is often the case ‘ it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.’

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