Systems Engineering Seminar

Shared Knowledge and Information Flow in Systems Engineering:
Socio-Cognitive Analysis of the GSFC Mission Design Laboratory

Presented by:
Mark S. Avnet / MIT

March 3, 2009, 1:00 p.m.
Building 3 Auditorium


Shared Knowledge and Information Flow in Systems Engineering:
Socio-Cognitive Analysis of the GSFC Mission Design Laboratory

Poster Session (ppt 1 MB) |

In the past decade, GSFC has been implementing an innovative approach to space systems design. The Mission Design Laboratory (MDL) increases the pace of conceptual design by bringing together all relevant personnel in the same room to conduct focused, collaborative one-week design sessions. Since its inception, the MDL has completed over 250 design studies on a variety of mission concepts.

This research presents an analysis of the MDL process from both a technical and a social perspective. The work is divided into three parts. The first part analyzes technical information flow in a typical MDL study using a matrix-based representation of parameter dependencies. This systems-level process model reveals the phases of the design life cycle, the interdisciplinary design trades, clusters of interdependent disciplines, and the starting assumptions that can be made to optimize the process. The second part draws on the insights of organizational and social psychology to analyze shared knowledge in the design team. Using survey data on team members' perceptions of the major design drivers in 12 MDL sessions, a model of shared knowledge in the team is constructed. A statistically significant correlation is then demonstrated between change in shared knowledge over time and various technical attributes of the system, including mission concept maturity, development time, launch mass, and system cost.

The third and final part of the research offers a socio-technical analysis of the MDL process that integrates technical information flow and team dynamics. This analysis suggests that shared knowledge could be a mediating variable that helps to translate team interactions into the final product of the design. In addition, the integrative analysis shows that the design of the Communications subsystem serves a central role both in the overall design process and in the dynamics of the team. Based on the findings of all three parts of the research, a standardized model of the MDL design process is proposed. Finally, the research offers some implications for the future of the MDL and discusses the applicability of the proposed model to systems engineering in full-scale NASA development programs.



Photo of Mark S. Avnet Mark S. Avnet is currently completing his Ph.D. in Engineering Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds an S.B. in Physics with a minor in Spanish from MIT and an M.A. in Science, Technology, and Public Policy from The George Washington University. Mark received a Graduate Certificate in Applied Science, Space Studies from the University of South Australia for completion of the International Space University's Summer Session Program.

Prior to returning to MIT to pursue his Ph.D., Mark worked as a Program Specialist for Centennial Challenges at NASA Headquarters. Mark has served as a Research Assistant at The George Washington University's Space Policy Institute and as a visiting researcher at NASA Ames Research Center. In addition, he spent two years working as a software developer for Rocket Software, Inc. in Newton, MA.



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