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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Technical Arguments

In order for a systems engineer to come up with a decision, there has to be a solid argument. Arguments are not conflicts, but rather expressions of ideas with evidence and facts. Arguments should be verifiable and are not based on emotions.

I am teaching a debate class for middle schoolers this weekend. So what is the link between that and this blog. Well, everyone needs to debate. Debate is not just for politicians, attorneys and TV host shows. Engineers need to debate technical ideas, requirements and design constraints. the systems engineer needs to ensure that technical arguments are backed up by solid facts. These facts need to be verifiable, just like requirements.

Teaching engineers how to debate is as important as teaching attorneys how to present a case in court. Dealing effectively with complicated and complex systems requires no only engineering and science, but also art in the form of architecture, soft skills and critical thinking.

Decision Making and Systems Engineering

Systems engineering is an interdisiplinary approach to enable the successful realization of systems. Learning the systems engineering process is not a complex task. The tough part of systems engineering is making decisions related to trade-off studies, and balancing among the different requirements, which could at many times be orthogonal and conflicting.

An effective systems engineer is one who can provide insights and advice related to technical decisions. This would occur as follows,

1. Ensuring requirements are clear, well understood, correctly prioritized, and motivation well understood
2. Modeling and simulation and developing what-if scenarios
3. Conducting trade studies and parametric analysis
4. Clearly defining interfaces and boundaries, their requirements and impacts
5. Comprehensive risk management and optimum risk handling
6. Justify changes to requirements, design, scope, resource demands and technology
7. System optimization to develop a best solution in situation where multiple aspects of a system can be optimized
8. clearly defining dependencies, integration constraints and alternatives

The value of the system engineer is not only implementing the systems engineering capability pattern, but also ensuring that true value is being realized through the implementation of the SE capability patten. This true value will be achieved through solid decision-making.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A World of Decisions

Very often we get challenged to make decisions on problems which have more than one criteria. This decision making process is referred to as "Multi-Criteria Decision Making (MCDM)".

MCDM defines two major classes for determining optimal decisions. The first known as Multi-Objective Decision Making (MODM), and the second Multi-Attribute Decision Making (MADM). Both classes could support single or multiple decision makers as well as multiple data types -deterministic, stochastic, or fuzzy.

MODM deals with problems in which the decision space is continuous. MADM on the other hand is used when solutions are discrete.

The key point in making decisions is not what one is deciding, but rather how the decision is made. The ability to make sound decisions is a fundamental life skill, each one of us experiences everyday.

To read further:
1. Tryantaphyllou, Shu, Sanchez, and Ray, "Multi-Criteria Decision Making: An Operations Research Approach", Encylopedia of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, John Wiley, 1998, pp. 175-186.

2. Hammond, Keeney, Raiffa, "Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Life Decisions", Broadway Books, 2002