The Systems Engineering Method

  1. Customer[1] Expectations (Project Objectives and Mission Profile)
  2. High Level Requirements[2] (Level 1 Program/Project)
  3. Functional and Logical decompositions (Project WBS)
  4. Trade Studies and Iterative Design Loop
    1. Form Creative Design Solution (System PBS)
    2. Define Level 2 System and Subsystem Requirements
    3. Make Hardware and/or Software Model(s) and Perform Experiments
    4. Organize and Analyze Data
    5. Does Functional & Performance Analysis show design will meet Functional Design and concept of operations (ConOps) Requirements?
    6. If additional detail need, Repeat Process
  5. Select a preferred design
    1. Does the system work[3] (performance)?
    2. Is the system achievable within cost and schedule constraints?
    3. If the answer is no, adjust Customer’s Expectations (Step 1) and start again.
  6. Communicate Results (PDR and CDR)
  7. Preparing presentations (PDR and CDR)
  8. Reports, plans, and specifications. (Project Planning)
  9. Implement the design. (Project Implementation)
[1] NASA introduces the term Stakeholders at this time, a term that encompasses both the customer and individuals directly or indirectly effected by the project. Due to the introductory nature of this course, I will simply use the term customer.  
[2] Stakeholder Expectations
[3] This includes determining if the system is safe and reliable.

Searching for Creative Solutions

Once you have Identifying the real problem and gathered needed Information it is time to search for “original” creative solutions.

  • Here are several techniques to help you and your team produce original creative ideas.
  • Ideas may come from creativity, a subconscious effort, or innovation, a conscious effort.
  • The objective is to break the set patterns of thought that everyone develops (i.e., team’s thinking tends to fall into ruts).

Brainstorming (or Brainwriting) Approach

  • Brainstorming versus Brainwriting
    • All ideas are encouraged.
    • Write down as many ideas as possible
    • After a break, combine and improve ideas.
    • Delay judgment and evaluation of ideas until end…

Attribute (Properties) Listing

  • Step 1 – List the major attributes or properties of a product, object, or idea – The fish bones
  • Step 2 – For each attribute, Brainstorm how each of the attributes could be changed.

[1] For more on this topic Google the keyword “The Fishbone Diagram.”

Quality, Property, Character, Attribute

Attribute mean an intelligible feature by which a thing may be identified. Quality is a general term applicable to any trait or characteristic whether individual or generic  quality> Property implies a characteristic that belongs to a thing’s essential nature and may be used to describe a type or species  property of not conducting heat>Character applies to a peculiar and distinctive quality of a thing or a class  character>.  Attribute implies a quality ascribed to a thing or a being  attributes of a military hero>. Merriam-Webster Dictionary

  • For example, how can we improve the design of a cell phone?

Attribute Ideas

Color Could …

  • Be Any color
  • Be transparent
  • Utilize designs such as plaid
  • Have a personalized design (skinit)

Material Could be…

Input Device Could be…

  • 10-push-button design
  • Could be lever system
  • Could use an abacus-type system
  • Could be push buttons arranged in a line

Make the Shape

  • Square
  • Round
  • Oval

Lateral Thinking

Edward de Bono developed the lateral thinking techniques of random stimulation and using other people’s views to generate ideas during brainstorming. Lateral thinking provides new ways to come at a problem and get “unstuck.” We will look at two:

  1. Forced Relationship Technique
  2. Different Point of View

Forced Relationship Technique

  • Step 1 – Take a fixed thing, such as the product or some idea related to the product
  • Step 2 – Force it to take on the attributes of another unrelated thing.
  • Step 3 – Brainstorm

Getting Started: Try this Random Noun Generator

Reminder: Work with the attributes of the noun, not the noun itself.

  • As an example, suppose we wish to design a weed-cutting device. This will be the forced object.
  • Next, we randomly choose an automobile wheel as the other element.
  • Some of the ideas that may occur based upon the automobile wheel are:
    • A weed cutter that rolls.
    • A round weed cutter.
    • A weed cutter that has spokes.
    • A rubber weed cutter.
    • A weed cutter that has brakes.

Different Point of View

People sometimes stretch their minds by adopting different points of view.

  • Imagine yourself in the future[1]; “What are the characteristics of an ideal solution?” even if not technically feasible today.
  • Imagine a similar problem located on a strange planet or in free fall.
  • Try to identify with the stone that is to be crushed, or the fruit that is going to be peeled.
  • Pretend that common materials or components are not available or that certain exceptional ones are.
  • Try to project how nature would do it.
  • The methods are endless.

[1] If you would like to learn more on this technique, Google the keyword “Futuring.”

Different Point of View by Robert Frost


The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.

Robert Frost

Overcoming Obstacles to Creative Thinking

Here are a few more specific actions and attitudes that can be employed to overcome obstacles to creative thinking:

  1. Avoid placing unnecessary constraints on the problem being solved.
  2. Search for different ways to view the problem, avoiding preconceived beliefs and stereotypical thinking.
  3. Recognize that there are non-engineering solutions to many problems. Consider approaches that other disciplines might use.
  4. Look for relationships that are remote and solutions that are unusual and nontraditional.
  5. Most creative thought involves putting experiences and thoughts into new patterns and arrangements.
  6. Divide complex problems into manageable parts and concentrate on solving one part at a time.
  7. Allow time for incubation, after periods of intensive concentration – sleep on it
  8. Be open to a variety of problem-solving strategies.

Reference Material

  1. Introduction to Engineering Design and problem Solving, The Summer Institute for Engineering and Technology Education, University of Arkansas 1995.
  2. University of Arkansas – A Collection of Engineering Design Problems [2009 Edition] This document also introduces “The Design Loop
  3. Teehan+Lax-Brainstorming-Checklist
  4. University of Michigan – Strategies for Creative Problem Solving
    1. Downloaded and installed first module – Brainstorming
    2. University Of Michigan Chapter 4 – The First Four Steps
    3. University Of Michigan Chapter 5 – Problem Definition Techniques
    4. University Of Michigan Chapter 6 – Breaking Down the Barriers to Generating Ideas
    5. University Of Michigan Chapter 7 – Generating Solutions (a lot of branches from this material)
      1. Open-Ended Problem Solving Algorithm
    6. University Of Michigan Chapter 8 – Deciding the Course of Action
    7. University Of Michigan Chapter 9 – Implementing the Solutions

Appendix A – Brainstorming Checklist

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