Exploring System Context
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The normal practice in developing and manufacturing a complex system, like an aircraft or an automobile, is to decompose the system into separate parts, derive requirements for each part from the requirements for the whole, and assign each part to a separate team, who then designs it more or less independently. As Russell Ackoff and other systems thinkers note however, “a system is a whole that cannot be divided into independent parts without losing some of its essential characteristics as a whole.” While attention is paid to the whole during separation and requirements flowdown, the practical aspects of developing complex systems under tight constraints of budgets and schedules frequently causes teams to lose sight of the whole, which can result in suboptimization, interface mismatch and other unintended consequences.
The dilemma posed by the decomposition process is explored for the particular case of [fill in your system of interest here]. Following Ackoff’s process for synthetic thinking, the larger system of which the system of interest is a part is identified, the role the part plays in the larger system is defined, and the implications for the part is determined. The perspectives and insights of those responsible for the whole and those responsible for the other subsystems with which the system of interest interacts are utilized to gain an understanding of how the decomposition process is actually practiced, what issues arise and how those issues are addressed. Recommendations are made for engineers who find themselves responsible for similar parts of a larger whole.
This project is suitable for any student who has completed the core courses for a Master's of Engineering in Systems Engineering and finds themselves responsible for a system that is part of a larger whole.