How do you promote system thinking and why is it necessary?
This subject was discussed in depth recently by Dr. K. (Subbu) Subramanian, President, STIMS Institute, with a large manufacturing company and a well renowned College of Engineering in India recently. As a result it was concluded that while system engineering and the structures and techniques related to that are well established, System Thinking is not a natural part of working for practicing engineers. It was noted that, while there is a lot of discussion on Cross functional teams and concurrent engineering, there is little in terms of education and practice that promotes concurrency in thought process that brings together the Science, Engineering and Management disciplines pertaining to any problem or solution. While we see every medical professional with a Stethoscope, thermometer and blood pressure monitor, practicing engineers rarely resort to active diagnostic tools to obtain the “Vital signs” of the process or solution they deal with. There is also a tendency to execute whatever they are asked to do or assigned, rather than constantly ask the question “Why?”
With out a system thinking outlook, engineers tend to work in silos and stick to their cubicles. Knowledge, which is available from many sources – suppliers, inside the company, customers, … – is rarely integrated in a deliberate fashion, since there is no framework readily available for such frame work. While tools like Fishbone diagram look at the Cause and the effect, they rarely focus on the “phenomena” or the science that links the cause and the effect. The effect itself is seen only in technical terms (what is the solution) and rarely in terms of the “Why?” or benefits to stake holders and the order of priority.
To address the above needs, a new course is being developed to be offered as an optional course for the 7th semester students. While the initial plan was targeted the ME and EE students, the college has decided to offer this course for all majors. The expected outcome of this course are:
- Definition of any solution as the System: Input/Transformation/Output Scheme
- Distinction between:
— System Thinking (which underlies the) System Engineering
— Task Orientation Vs. Solution orientation (System Thinking)
— Technical Output Vs. System Output
- The four components of the Inputs categories of any system or solution
- Definition and distinction between Science, Engineering and Management
- The role of each of the above three pathways for critical thinking
- Transformation — What does it mean?
- How to identify the “transformation” behind any solution?
- Ability to frame any assignment, job or problem as the system and its parts
- Ability to recognize the need for diagnostic tools and their use to probe the “Transformation”
- Principles of the System Approach (Captured in the books referenced below)
- Comfort level to know who the stake holders are (who are also the sources for inputs)?
- Ability to seek them out for help and collaboration from both inside as well as outside the company.
- “The System Approach – A Strategy to Survive and Succeed in the Global Economy,” K. (Subbu) Subramanian, Hanser Gardner Publishers, 2002. ISBN-13: 978-1569902554
- “Thriving in the 21st Century: Transformational Skills for Technical Professionals”, K. (Subbu) Subramanian, Srinivas U. Rangan, ASME Press, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-7918-6016-8