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A Four-step Method for Capstone Design Teams to Gather Relevant and Well-defined Product Requirements

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Systems Engineering Division Technical Session 1: Course Design & SE Competencies

Tagged Division

Systems Engineering

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Paper Authors


Rachana Ashok Gupta North Carolina State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Rachana A Gupta is currently a Teaching Associate professor and Associate Director of ECE Senior Design Program at NCSU. She teaches and mentors several senior design students on industry-sponsored projects (On average 12 / semester) to successful completion of an end product. These projects include all aspects of System Engineering: concept design, product design and design trade-offs, prototyping and testing (circuit design, PCB, mechanical fabrication, algorithm development). These projects have included Robotics Platforms, Planning, Monitoring and Control algorithms, Sensor Interface, User Interfaces, Wireless communication, Signal Processing etc. All of this involves direction and teaching teams how to use the required tools and apply engineering skills to transform a concept into a product. She also manages interdisciplinary senior design projects in collaboration with other engineering departments such as Textiles Engineering, Mechanical engineering, etc. Beyond senior design, she has also created and teaches undergraduate as well as graduate level classes in ECE (Python in Engineering, Algorithms in ECE, Practical Engineering Prototyping (PrEP)). She also has designed and taught ECE Robotics summer camp since 2012.

Dr. Gupta earned her Bachelors of Engineering in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering from University of Pune, India and received her MS and PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering from North Carolina State University (2010). Her Phd was to design computer vision algorithms for autonomous navigation for cars. She started her own engineering consulting company in 2010 worked on several product development projects such as automated air suspension system for vehicles, active suspension system for heavy duty off-road vehicles (currently DARPA funded), vision tracking system for race car tracks, etc. She joined NCState as Teaching Assistant Professor in 2012. Dr. Gupta’s current research projects focus on sensor systems and engineering design education.

Dr. Gupta likes to tinker with new technology and work on small hobby projects in her basement lab. Her other hobbies include reading, classical dancing, and traveling.

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Greg A. Dunko NantHealth

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Greg is the Senior Vice President of the Product and Program Management Office (PPMO) at NantHealth, where he leads strategic product planning and program business operations. Prior to joining NantHealth, he served as Global Head of Product Development at BlackBerry, leading all mobile phone hardware development. Prior to this, Greg led the Electrical and Computer Engineering senior design program at North Carolina State University – creating a new full year program with emphasis on product development and corporate sponsorship and mentoring. He has also held leadership roles at HTC and Ericsson/Sony Ericsson. Greg is an established inventor and has filed over 80 patents. He also is co-author of the eBook “A Reference Guide to the Internet of Things”. Greg holds an BS Electrical Engineering and MS Electrical Engineering from West Virginia University. His graduate research focused on Biomedical Engineering.

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One of the challenges faced in engineering education is to teach students how to think about the element of “what” in a project before they get into the aspect of “how.” In industry, and also in design classes this is mainly encapsulated in the “product requirement” phase of System Engineering. According to many studies and design course outcomes and as observed in industry, learning project requirements and background is a critical element of System Engineering. A comprehensive and unambiguous list of product requirement (keeping the user in mind) sets the correct tone for the preliminary design exercises, improves the system design, reduces the design and development time, effort, budget, as well as the probability of rework in a project.

However, most of the engineering subjects and courses are designed to train students to think about “how” to solve a given problem instead of “what and where” lies the need. Many students go through the rigorous “requirement” exercise only during the capstone design courses as part of a team project. Before which very few students have been introduced to the skills and tools required to interact with customers/client to understand the requirements. Therefore, several student teams not only struggle to understand the value of good “product requirements” but also struggle to come up with a comprehensive list of product requirements which defines the scope of the problem correctly. This is true especially when given an ambiguous or an open ended problem or conflicting customer requirements / needs, occurrences of all of which in an industry setting are very high.

To help students think about the right “what”s and come up with a relevant, important and thus good list of product requirements, a 4-step process was introduced in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) capstone design class. This method goes beyond highlighting the importance and need for “product requirements” to students. It has an iterative structure comprised of various intra-team exercises, structured client/customer interactions and in-class workshops, which teaches them to ask the right questions. The method is designed to be applicable to variety of projects including hardware, system design, software engineering, etc. The teams which followed the process came up with far better, more comprehensive and complete list of quality product requirements than the teams which did not. The former teams also understood the depth of the problem much better and this was reflected in their preliminary system design. This paper explains the 4-step process in detail and presents the improved outcomes and thus improved System Engineering in the ECE capstone design due to that.

Gupta, R. A., & Dunko, G. A. (2018, June), A Four-step Method for Capstone Design Teams to Gather Relevant and Well-defined Product Requirements Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--29679

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