if there is any malfunctioning the specialists engineers go through the problem and try to analysis it and after that try to fix it according to the analysing.
The development of systems engineering was contemporaneous with that of systems analysis in public policy. Though its origins can be traced back to the 1930s and 1940s (Hall, 1962, p. 7), its more widespread application can be dated from the early 1950s.
The earliest formal teaching of systems engineering was a course presented in 1950 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by G.W. Gilman, who was then Director of Systems Engineering at Bell Laboratories. Gilman was a strong promoter of the use of systems engineering at Bell Labs and was instrumental in developing training material that was used in company courses (Hall, 1962, p. vii).
One of the Bell Labs executives, Arthur Hall, was closely associated with the introduction of systems engineering into the organization, and considered that it was necessary because:
• Products were increasing in complexity,
• The needs of consumers were expanding,
• The business environment was expanding rapidly in terms of markets, technology and concerns,
• There was an acute shortage of technically and scientifically trained people.
It is interesting to note that, half a century later, the argument has not changed a great deal. Stevens et al. (1998, p. 2) state that:
Systems engineering is the ‘key technology’ to manage complexity created by:
• Increased complexity of products,
• Globalization of the market-place,
• The erosion of trade barriers,
• Reduction of product development cycles,
• Software as the dominant force for change in almost all new products.
• Worldwide deployment of new technology in ever shorter timescales,
• Systems constructed from bought-in technology and components,
• Reuse of components, information and knowledge across projects,
• Partnerships for product development leading to worldwide teams,
• The transition from paper-based control to control through electronically managed information,
• An understanding that intellectual capital often is the major part of the assets of a modern organization.
Perhaps the main difference is the emergence, over the last half-century, of the importance of computing, which features in one way or another in three of the items on the list of Stevens et al.
A second difference is that Stevens et al. regard ‘time’, or the lack of it, as a significant factor leading to increased complexity. Hall cites shortages of technically and scientifically trained staff.
Essentially, however, both justifications are that ‘things’ are getting more complex.
The five-stage systems engineering methodology adopted in Bell Labs consisted of:
• Systems studies: program planning
During this phase a comprehensive range of environmental factors is investigated with the aim of laying out a possible broad development program for the organization. Senior managers can then make an informed choice of which projects to accept and the amount and type of resources to devote to them. A secondary aim is to increase the knowledge in the organization of trends and developments in its business environment.
This phase of the methodology is focused on a single project. This may be one of the possibilities laid out in the program defined in the previous stage, or the systems engineering methodology may start at this stage if the need for the project has been separately defined.
Exploratory planning starts with analytical work to define the problem, or need, that the project is addressing. The second step is then to select the objectives of the system in relation to the problem or need that has been denied. The objectives will guide the subsequent selection of alternative solutions and the associated analyses.
The next step, termed systems synthesis, is concerned with compiling or devising alternatives that might satisfy the objectives that have previously been defined. Each alternative is then tested during the systems analysis step. The results of the testing are used during the selection stage to choose the best solution. Finally, the results of the work during this stage are communicated to senior management and others having an interest in the project, with a recommendation to go ahead, do no further work, or that more investigation is required.
Development planning: project planning 2
If the decision is to proceed with the project, the systems engineering team would then produce a detailed plan which would be used to guide subsequent work.
Studies during development: action phase 1
The project is then handed over to development engineers responsible for undertaking the detailed design. The role of systems engineering during this stage is to assist engineers with any special studies that might be required during development and implementation.
Current engineering: action phase 2
This stage covers any follow-up work undertaken when the system is in use.
Hall identified three different organizational arrangements that might provide a framework within which systems engineering work could take place within the organization. The first of these, which he termed the departmental form and regarded as the lowest level of arrangement, was essentially a temporary team of specialists brought together, under the management of a team leader, to undertake a specific project.
The team consisted of members of each of the specialist development departments and was what would now be called ‘multifunctional’. It does not seem that the team was co-located since ‘Problems uncovered by the team would [then] be brought back to the regular department for development’ (Hall, 1962, p. 14). Hall seems to have been proposing a form of weak matrix organization, with team members responsible to their departmental head and to the team leader. The team was dissolved on project completion.
Hall's second structural arrangement was the task force. In this form the organization was divided into separate projects with service departments that the projects could call on. This was probably an early form of project organization. Hall's third form was a mixture of the two. In Bell Labs, systems engineering was established as a separate department, headed by a vice-president, and had equal status to the research department and the development departments.
As part of AT&T, Bell Labs was a noted pioneer in management methods, and it cannot be assumed that it was representative of the use of systems engineering at that time. Nevertheless, the approach gained acceptance rapidly, and a favor of the type of problem to which it was applied can be gained from the case quoted in Box 8.
You should now read the document; "Box 8- The development of colour television", in the section titles 'Extra reading materials'.
There were other pioneering and influential organisations that embraced systems engineering philosophy and practice. Notable among these were the US Department of Defense and NASA.
At about the same time, in the UK, the application of systems ideas was taking a different form.
A group of consultants based at the Tavistock Institute in London developed the idea of looking at an organization as what they termed a socio-technical system.
Two of the main proponents of this approach stated:
'In our earliest study of production systems [in coal mining] it became apparent that ‘so close is the relationship between the various aspects that the social and psychological can be understood only in terms of the detailed engineering facts and of the way the technological system as a whole behaves in the environment of the underground situation’.
An analysis of a technological system in these terms can produce a systematic picture of the tasks and task inter-relations required by the technological system.
(Emery and Trist, 1960)
The socio-technical systems approach can be summarized in three principles:
• 'The basic unit for the design of socio-technical systems must itself be a socio-technical unit and have the characteristics of an open system.’
• The second aspect of systems design was the recognition that the arrangement of parts, and the principles on which that arrangement were based, were important principles
• The third principle was that ‘… higher levels of organization can be achieved only by the fuller use of the inherent properties of parts as co-determinants of positional values. […] what this principle means is, quite simply, that the best design for any productive system will be that which not only allows that the goals of any subsystem, any part, embody in some manner the overall system goals … and allows that any such part is self-managing to the point that they [sic] will seek to cope with external variances by firstly rearranging their own resources …’
(Emery, 1981, pp. 387-88)
The work of the researchers at the Tavistock Institute was immensely influential, finding application in a number of progressive European companies such as Philips and Volvo. Its focus was shop-floor production processes rather than products and, as the above list suggests, it was based on principles rather than a methodology.
A sustained attack on systems engineering came through the development of the ‘soft systems methodology’ introduced in module 3.
The Department of Systems Engineering at the University of Lancaster was founded in the mid-1960s with initial funding from Imperial Chemical Industries, then the UK's largest industrial company.
ICI was realizing at that time that the operation of a petrochemical complex, in which the output from some plants is the input to others, entails engineering the whole as a single complex system.
This was different from building and operating a plant to make a single product, and it seemed to some forward-looking managers in ICI's then Agricultural and Heavy Organic Chemicals Divisions that it would be useful if this kind of problem were being addressed by some university-based group: hence the gift to Lancaster.(Checkland and Scholes, 1990, p. 16)
At the forefront of the development of systems ideas was Peter Checkland, who was recruited to investigate the application of systems engineering methodology, which he characterizes as being concerned with developing a system to satisfy a defined need (Checkland and Scholes, 1990, p. 17) to less well-defined problems. This was found to be problematic, and in response Checkland developed a soft systems methodology.
This was advocated as a ‘broad approach to examining problem situations in a way that would lead to decisions on action at the level of both “what” and “how” ’ (Checkland and Scholes, 1990, p. 18). Checkland argues that ill-defined problems are the most common situation faced by managers and that they need first to determine what needs to be done. ‘This means that naming a system to meet a need and denning its objectives precisely - the starting point of systems engineering - is a special case.’ (Checkland and Scholes, 1990, p. 17)
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