Complex Engineering Programs as Sociotechnical Systems

  • Bryan R. MoserEmail author
  • Ralph T. Wood


By framing complex engineering as sociotechnical systems, the concurrent engineering (CE) community can gain new insights, practices, and tools to cope with program difficulties. Todays distributed product development teams need to manage both human (organization) and technical (product and process) elements of their work. These sociotechnical elements combine in a real-world engineering program as an integrated architecture with dynamic interactions. Based on traditional representation and analysis of engineering activity, the prediction of performance can become challenging. Practices for engineering planning and ongoing management often rest upon deeply held beliefs of stability, detailed decomposability, and feasible control of related products, processes, and organization. However, while these assumptions drove collocated manufacturing during the industrial revolution, today’s engineering programs—and how the CE community considers them—have evolved. This chapter provides historical context on the evolution of systems thinking as applied to engineering and project management. Concepts are summarized as forces which reinforce and those which restrain the treatment of engineering programs as sociotechnical systems. Complexities of real world engineering programs can be considered in order to anticipate emergent outcomes driven by dynamic interaction of technical and social characteristics. This perspective is leading to a new generation of methods and practices for high performance engineering programs.


Sociotechnical systems Project design Collaborative engineering Simulation-based planning Scheduling Complexity Teamwork Learning 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Engineering Systems DivisionMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Global Project DesignBostonUSA

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