By Luke Cropsey, SDM ’08
note: This is the fourth in a series of articles by SDM alumnus Luke
Cropsey, who synthesized resources from four communities—the Lean
Advancement Initiative, the Systems Engineering Advancement Research
Initiative, SDM, and the US Air Force—to develop an overarching
systems-based methodology for addressing the complexities of integrating
unmanned aircraft systems into the National Airspace System. In this
article, he offers his final observations on this process. (For previous
Cropsey articles, view the SDM Pulse online at sdm.mit.edu/news_archive.html.)
mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original
dimension," said Oliver Wendell Holmes—and that’s certainly been my
experience at MIT.
MIT’s System Design and Management
(SDM) Program has irrevocably changed my perspective, my approach to
solving problems, and my way of framing issues when managing complexity
of any sort. Just 18 months ago, my approach to designing and managing
integrated systems and enterprises lacked structure. Now I am equipped
with a variety of tools to break down and analyze complex problems, as
well as to formulate solutions.
To review, Figure 1
illustrates the sequence of analytical steps I used in my effort to
integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the National Airspace System—a
complex challenge made more difficult because critical stakeholders had
different ideas about what they wanted. I relied on several tools to
align definitions of value and deliver the desired enterprise
attributes: the enterprise purpose statement, the X matrix, an adaption
of object process methodology, and finally, the enterprise
Going through each analytical step illuminated some key lessons.
1) There are three rules to success in the lean, value focused thinking approach: value, value, value.
is impossible to overemphasize this point. Companies need to make the
effort to correctly elicit and identify the value needs of key
stakeholders within an enterprise. Everything hinges on this task, and
any and all pressures to move forward before the value identification
phase is successfully concluded should be steadfastly resisted. Until a
clear purpose statement exists that describes the desired end-state, any
effort to move the enterprise forward is a high-risk endeavor at a
minimum and recipe for disaster at worst.
architect’s first task is to acquire a clear and accurate understanding
of each stakeholder’s value definition. These definitions provide the
foundation for a successful solution.
second task is to define the enterprise so that it will deliver value
for those both above and below the enterprise. A clear, unambiguous
purpose statement that aligns with the needs of external stakeholders
creates the prerequisites needed to flow value through the entire value
chain, not just the enterprise.
third task is to align stakeholder value definitions within the
enterprise. If the first two value conditions have been accomplished
successfully, this final alignment will ensure value delivery to all
2) Qualitative analysis does not mean "by-the-seat of-your-pants." Analytical rigor counts.
because an issue cannot be neatly and quantitatively assessed doesn’t
mean that all ideas will work equally well. Doing a good qualitative
analysis is hard, consumes creative energy, and requires innovative
thinking—but it is the only way to provide high-confidence, defensible,
and well-structured solutions to otherwise intractable problems.
challenge is: you have to be willing to invest in understanding what is
important to other people and how that drives behavior. A rigorous
methodology forces people to articulate values that might otherwise
remain in the background, ensuring that you get the best going-in
solution possible—as well as the evidence you need to persuade other
people to buy into the value proposition that is created at the
3) Insight and innovation occurs at the intersection of dissimilar bodies of knowledge.
is by no means an original flash of brilliance on my part. Both
Professors Eric von Hippel and Thomas Allen discuss the dynamics of this
effect in their respective courses at MIT. Indeed, MIT’s Engineering
Systems Division (including SDM) pools talent from across the
engineering and management disciplines precisely because that fosters
innovative approaches to old and new problems alike.
the truth of the observation struck me as never before as I worked
through my analysis for the US Air Force. The combination of different
approaches, tools, and perspectives laid the foundation for true insight
into how to architect a solution for the unmanned aircraft systems
airspace integration problem that had eluded me for two straight years
working the problem in my day job.
The difference stems
from having an intentional process by which to bring together
dissimilar bodies of information in a controlled manner. Too often
organizations are satisfied with an almost random or haphazard level of
innovation. But without a structured process, dissimilar bodies of
knowledge will typically collide rather than intersect.
of the long-term benefits of SDM, which I am only now just beginning to
appreciate, is the fundamental shift in the way that I think about
innovation. SDM provides the tools and methodologies needed to
successfully integrate disparate bodies of knowledge into efforts that
will consistently yield innovation opportunities. Notice I said
"opportunities." This is not to say the next "killer app" can be reduced
to a series of repeatable steps. However, with the right tools,
methodologies, and mindset, it is possible to create an environment in
which innovation can thrive and grow instead of showing up by accident.
is the most valuable lesson I learned from working at the intersection
of the LAI, SEAri, SDM, and The Air Force bodies of knowledge in my
research. In the final analysis, it was the synthesis of these four
perspectives into an integrated methodology that paved my way forward.
of the above-mentioned organizations made key contributions to my
research in ways that were both distinct in nature and that built on the
strengths of the others (see Figure 2).
The Lean Advancement Initiative
taught me the importance of value definition. No matter what the
context or the nature of the task at hand, properly identifying what is
of value to those involved is always the first step to success.
The Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative
provided the needed methodological rigor and practice for me to move
beyond an ad hoc application of enterprise architecting principles and
to implement a full, systematic approach grounded in solid research
techniques and principles.
The US Air Force,
my employer, demanded practical, implementable results, which kept the
"so what" of this research constantly at the forefront of my mind.
provided the systems thinking imperative, management tools, and
architecting framework to crank through the mechanics, making everything
work together to produce the desired results.
it would be a mistake to think that rigor can create a completely
objective view of the squishy, softedged problems that are typical of
today’s complex socio-technical systems. Rigor can induce repeatability
into the process, but not objectivity. At the end of the day, much of
the system and enterprise architecting work that is at the heart of the
research I’ve presented is still very much an art form. As with most
complex undertakings, there is no substitute for experience.
months after graduating, I find myself digging into the MIT tool bag on
an almost weekly basis. The SDM way of thinking keeps finding new
outlets for expression—even now that my job no longer has anything to do
with unmanned aircraft systems.
It used to be that
when people asked me what I did, I would tell them I was an engineer.
Now I borrow a line from Professor Edward F. Crawley and tell them I
manage complexity, reduce ambiguity, and focus creativity—in short, I
architect solutions to problems.
Oliver Wendell Holmes knew what he was talking about.
Friends all her moneys
3 years ago