Design of Complex Programs as Sociotechnical Systems

  • Bryan R. Moser
  • Ralph T. Wood


Following the introduction of systems thinking concepts in Chap. 3, we demonstrate here the treatment of complex engineering projects as sociotechnical systems in practical engineering practice. This approach, called Project Design, enables concurrent engineering (CE) teams to foresee the influence of project architecture, behaviors, dependencies, and complexity on emergent performance, thereby reducing the occurrence of unpleasant surprises. We have seen in multiple industrial cases this method as a source of new thinking and practices relevant to CE, with supporting tools and processes. Past assumptions about standard work practices may be tested, including such factors as degree of concurrency, phasing, roles, technology decomposition, system interfaces, and risk and its reduction. If embedded behaviors, in interplay with the total project architecture, lead to surprising negative or positive performance, the design of the engineering project as a sociotechnical system begins with un-learning, then awareness, and then learning of the project approaches more likely to produce positive results. The design of concurrency is specific to the nature of the social and technical elements of the system and its architecture.


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


  1. 1.
    Moser B, Mori K, Suzuki H, Kimura F (1997) Global product development based on activity models with coordination distance features. In: Proceedings of the 29th international seminar on manufacturing systems, Osaka, pp 161–166Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bucciarelli L (1994) Designing engineers. The MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Holt A (1989) Organizing computer use in the context of networks. In: COMPCON Spring’89. Thirty-fourth IEEE computer society international conference: intellectual leverage, digest of papers, pp 201–207Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Oravec J (1996) Virtual individuals, virtual groups, vol 11. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Schein E (2006) Organizational culture and leadership, vol 356. Wiley, HobokenGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Kerzner H (2013) Project management: a systems approach to planning, scheduling, and controlling. Wiley, HobokenGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Mantel S, Meredith J, Shafer S, Sutton M (2011) Project management in practice, 4th edn. Wiley, HobokenGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Christian A, Grasso K, Seering W (1996) Validation studies of an information-flow model of design. In: Proceedings of the 1996 ASME design engineering technical conferencesGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Baligh H, Burton R, Obel B (1996) Organizational consultant: creating a useable theory for organizational design. Manage Sci 42(12):1648–1662CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Jin Y, Levitt R (1996) The virtual design team: a computational model of project organizations. Comput Math Organ Theor 2(3):171–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ni M, Luh P, Moser B (2008) An optimization-based approach for design project scheduling. IEEE Trans Autom Sci Eng 5(3):394–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Goldratt EM (1997) Critical chain. North River Press, Great BarringtonGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Gharajedaghi J (2011) Systems thinking: managing chaos and complexity, 3rd edn. Elsevier, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Schrage M (1995) No more teams: mastering the dynamics of creative collaboration. Currency Doubleday, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Kennedy M, Ward A (2003) Product development for the lean enterprise. Oaklea Press, RichmondGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Kahane A (2004) Solving tough problems: an open way of talking, listening, and creating new realities. Berrett-Koehler, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Moser BR, Wood RT, Hiekata K (2014) Risk management in the design of engineering as sociotechnical systems. In: Cha J et al (eds) Moving integrated product development to service clouds in global economy. Proceedings of the 21st ISPE Inc international conference on concurrent engineering, IOS Press, Amsterdam, pp 635–646Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

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

Personalised recommendations