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ISE Seminar-Shared Knowledge Networks in Engineering Organizations: Implications for Process Improvement and Organizational Change

Event Type
303 Transportation Building
Jan 30, 2013   4:00 pm  
Dr. Mark Avnet, McKinsey & Company, New York, NY

The goal of this seminar is to present a research program focused on the organizational and cognitive aspects of systems engineering.  The first part of the seminar focuses on a study of the Integrated Concurrent Engineering (ICE) environment, a real-world setting where teams of engineers conduct conceptual design sessions of complex systems.  The design process is analyzed using a parameter-based Design Structure Matrix (DSM).  This model, consisting of 682 dependencies among 172 parameters, is partitioned (reordered) to reveal a tightly coupled design process.  Further analysis shows that making starting assumptions about design budgets leads to a straightforward process of well-defined and sequentially executed design iterations.  To analyze the social aspects of the design process, a network of shared mental models is built to reveal the structure of shared knowledge at a snapshot in time.  A structural comparison of pre-session and post-session networks is used to compute a metric of change in shared knowledge over time.  Based on survey data from 12 design sessions, a correlation is found between change in shared knowledge and each of several system attributes, including technological maturity, development time, mass, and cost.  The analysis yields three key insights about the socio-cognitive aspects of the design process.  First, certain features of the system serve a central role both in the design process and in the development of shared knowledge.  Second, change in shared knowledge is related to the design product.  Finally, change in shared knowledge and team coordination (agreement between expected and reported interactions) are positively correlated.

In the second part of the seminar, the current and future directions of the research program are presented.  The research is considered in the context of related work with several clients of a leading management consulting firm.  This part of the seminar includes a discussion of operational improvement programs focused on the design, development, and manufacturing of technological systems, including aircraft, aerospace subsystems and components, ocean vessels, semiconductors, and software systems.  When implemented effectively, these programs include both specific business initiatives with concrete financial objectives and formal mechanisms to ensure the cultural shifts needed to embed change in the organization.  Based on direct real-world experience with nearly a dozen such improvement efforts in large corporations, a plan for future research is presented.  The proposed program builds on the prior work on shared knowledge networks discussed above and expands the scope from team-based conceptual design studies to full-scale product development programs.  This research will make a substantive contribution to systems engineering and organizational psychology and will focus on developing both a theoretical and a practical understanding of the socio-cognitive factors that characterize successful operational improvement programs in engineering organizations.

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