Tuesday, June 2, 2009

SEAri investigates the human side of systems - SDM Pulse, Summer 2009

Kacy Gerst
SDM ’09
Human beings are central to all engineering systems—operating, maintaining, and supporting them. Therefore, the needs of people—for training, safety, and occupational health—must be considered and accommodated within the design of any system. Broadly termed human systems integration (HSI), this area of systems engineering examines the technical and management processes necessary to integrate human considerations within and across all system elements.

Failures to accommodate people properly can be costly—both financially and in terms of human life. With that in mind, the Systems Engineering and Research Initiative (SEAri) is currently investigating the economics of human systems integration under the sponsorship of the US Air Force Human Systems Integration Office. Nine domains of interest are specified by the US Air Force: manpower, personnel, training, environment, safety, occupational health, habitability, survivability, and human factors engineering.

According to Donna Rhodes, SEAri director and principal investigator for the project, “The tight coupling of HSI processes to the overall systems engineering process, particularly in large defense and government programs, creates a challenge for assessing whether human systems integration is being sufficiently considered to ensure a successful program.”

The research includes two areas of investigation. Ricardo Valerdi, research associate and lead for the first area, is working with graduate student Kevin Liu to estimate what percent of any systems engineering effort goes into accommodating people—research that will help others predict how much HSI effort will be needed for future programs.

Rhodes and Kacy Gerst, SDM ’09, are collaborating on a second area, investigating leading indicators for systems engineering effectiveness with HSI consideration. A leading indicator is a measure for evaluating how effective a specific activity is in advance of the impacts that are likely to affect system performance objectives. Leading indicators can help program leadership avoid problems, rework, and wasted effort through advance notice—thus delivering value to stakeholders.

Building on prior work on systems engineering leading indicators, the goal is to extend these for HSI to improve the predictability of HSI programmatic and technical performance on a program.

The team is also investigating “soft indicators” or the more difficult-to-measure information that indicates HSI
effectiveness. “Our initial investigation into soft indicators of effective human systems integration has been important for developing an approach for conducting case studies in the coming year,” said Gerst, who is completing her first semester of work on the project.

Research results will include guidance materials for effective HIS; augmenting COSYSMO, a cost model for estimating systems engineering effort; and contributing to the planned 2009 release of the second version of a guidance document for systems engineering leading indicators. The overall goal of the research is to strengthen the ability of leadership to effectively integrate HSI knowledge into the systems engineering process.

Recent work on the project has been published in several conference papers and is available on the SEAri website at seari.mit.edu. SEAri will also be holding a by-invitation only research summit on October 20, 2009. For further information, contact John M. Grace, SDM industry co-director at jmgrace@mit.edu or 617.253.2081.

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