Reference : Systems Engineering, Systems Thinking, and Learning: a Case Study in Space Industry
Dissertations and theses : Doctoral thesis
Engineering, computing & technology : Multidisciplinary, general & others
Systems Engineering, Systems Thinking, and Learning: a Case Study in Space Industry
Moser, Hubert [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Science, Technology and Communication (FSTC) > Engineering Research Unit]
University of Luxembourg, ​Luxembourg, ​​Luxembourg
Docteur en Sciences de l'Ingénieur
Blessing, Lucienne mailto
[en] Systems engineering ; Systems thinking ; Learning ; Space systems ; Empirical study ; Case studies ; Thinking ; Product development
[en] Systems thinking is a prerequisite of systems engineering, which is performed in multi-disciplinary teams, i.e. software engineers, mechanical engineers, electronic engineers, and others, work together to develop, build, and test technical systems such as space systems. The more team members consider a systems perspective the less rework is expected and the less effort of systems engineers is required. How systems thinking evolves in practice is not sufficiently understood. Therefore, work activity of multi-disciplinary teams has been studied in an empirical study. Data from multiple sources and of different temporal resolution has been collected over four years in four studies in space systems engineering. These studies are a concept exploration project in a summer school, two concept exploration projects in a concurrent design facility, and five projects in several lifecycle stages in a small space systems company.

An analytical framework has been developed based on an activity-theoretical analysis and a theme-and-key-event analysis. Contradicting multiple roles, differences in parameter definition and impact, differences in work approaches and ways of interacting, contradicting work standards, trust and doubts in extra-disciplinary decisions, awareness of diversity and orientation towards extra-disciplinary interactors, and velocity and availability of information are identified contradictions with learning potential. These contradictions provoke initiators of multi-disciplinary interaction. These are proactive provision of extra-disciplinary advice and three types of questions: critical questioning across disciplinary boundaries, asking for extra-disciplinary advice, and questioning the current work approach. The contradictions prompt the selection of themes that comprise several key events. These themes and key events are analysed on three levels (macro, meso, and micro) with a focus on systems thinking content and discourse features.

Systems thinking evolves in interaction within a broad temporal range, from minutes to years. It evolves vertically, i.e. within a discipline, and horizontally, i.e. across disciplines. The evolution of systems thinking is influenced by the multi-disciplinary quality of interaction. This quality is defined by the diversity or multi-disciplinarity of the interaction, the awareness of the diversity, the orientation towards extra-disciplinary interactors, the differences in interactional responsiveness, and the cohesion of interaction.

Improving the multi-disciplinary quality of interaction to foster the evolution of systems thinking is the major goal of the developed WAVES (Work Activity for a Versatile Evolution of Systems engineering and thinking) strategy. The WAVES strategy comprises two paths. The first path focuses on the introduction of employees into professional life, (space) industry, a company, a team, and a task. The second path focuses on the continuous improvement of the work activity. The implementation and evaluation of WAVES in a small space system company is the basic contribution to industry. The implementation within systems engineering departments of large space organisations has been prepared. The developed analytical framework contributes a new approach to analyse work activity in practice. Finally, the answers to the first part of the main research question contribute to a better understanding of systems engineering, systems thinking, and its learning in practice.

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