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Accelerating Experience with Live Simulation of Designing Complex Systems

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2013 ASEE International Forum


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 22, 2013

Start Date

June 22, 2013

End Date

June 22, 2013

Conference Session

Reception & Poster Session

Tagged Topic

ASEE International Forum

Page Count


Page Numbers

21.9.1 - 21.9.7



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Paper Authors


William Robinson Stevens Institute of Technology

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Bill Robinson is the Program Director for Systems Engineering and Distinguished Service Professor at Stevens Institute of Technology.
He has delivered more than 60 graduate Systems Engineering classes at Stevens in many different formats, including standard semester-based classes, synchronous multi-location distance learning, online distance learning, and on-site modular formats.
Prior to coming to Stevens Bill worked for more than twenty-five years in different technical and business leadership roles. For many years, he was Vice President for Bell Labs. Other positions he held include Vice President and General Manager for EasyLink Services Corporation as well as President of Innovation and Quality Solutions.
Bill has received numerous quality, reliability and innovation leadership awards and has authored several technical and process quality papers. He was twice awarded the Bell Labs President’s Award for innovation and Technical Excellence.
Bill received a BSEE from the University of Connecticut and a MSEE from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is a senior member of the American Society for Quality, member of INCOSE and a Six Sigma Master Black Belt.

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Michael Pennotti Stevens Institute of Technology

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Michael Pennotti, Ph.D. is Director, Systems Programs and a Distinguished Service Professor in the School of Systems and Enterprises at Stevens Institute of Technology. Prior to joining Stevens in 2001, Mike spent twenty years in systems engineering practice and leadership at Bell Laboratories, primarily working on undersea surveillance systems for the Navy. He then spent ten years applying the same principles and practices to organizations and enterprises as a member of the senior leadership teams of three different AT&T businesses. Since joining Stevens in 2001, Mike has helped develop the SDOE Program into one of premier systems engineering graduate programs in the U.S. He has taught Fundamentals of Systems Engineering and System Architecture and Design to more than 1000 industry and government students and has delivered workshops in Systems Engineering and Architecting, Systems Thinking, Critical Thinking, and Technical Leadership across the U.S. and in Europe. He is a Fellow of the International Council on Systems Engineering and a senior member of both the IEEE and the American Society for Quality. He holds Ph.D. and MS degrees in Electrical Engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of New York, a BEE from Manhattan College, and is a graduate of the AEA/Stanford Executive Institute for Technology Executives.

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Accelerating Experience with Live Simulation of Designing Complex Systems Dr. Michael Pennotti, Prof. William Robinson Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ, USAExperience is generally thought to be something engineers acquire on the job, a product of the lessonsthey learn from real-life successes and failures. With the demand for skilled engineers exceedingsupply, however, there is great interest in whether and how this process might be accelerated. Recentexperiments using live simulations of realistic, complex, system design projects have demonstratedthe potential for achieving this result. Immersing engineers at several levels of experience in thesesimulations has produced insights usually associated with time on the job and raises the possibilitythat useful experience might be acquired at dramatically reduced time, cost and risk.We have designed and conducted multiple simulations that exposed students to the complexity,confusion, decision-making and leadership challenges encountered in complex system design anddevelopment projects. These interrelated simulations have included: Design Simulations, LeadershipSimulations, Customer Simulations, and Peer Review Simulations. The Design Simulation involvedtwo competing teams of twenty-eight early-career engineers who had been selected for theLeadership Development Program of a large defense contractor. Both teams designed, documented,implemented and demonstrated a complex autonomous command and control system, includingsystem architecture, hardware and software design, integration, test and demonstration. TheLeadership Simulation involved three competing teams of four mid-career technical leaders each,from several organizations who were participants in Stevens’ Technical Leadership Master’sProgram. The teams played the role of the Technical Leadership Team for the developer of thesimulated system. The Customer Simulation involved forty-nine mid-career acquisitionprofessionals, organized into nine competing teams that played the role of the Technical EvaluationTeam for the customer of the simulated system. The Peer Review Simulation involved nineteencompeting teams formed from seventy-three early-career engineers from a subsequent cohort of thesame Leadership Development Program as the original design group. They played the role of PeerReview Team for the simulation.The simulations allowed students to discover that they had been unknowing locked in two nestedmental ‘boxes’. The first they called a Technical Box that trapped them into solving a veryinteresting technical problem and caused them to overly focus on design, without devoting enoughattention to system integration, test and teaming. The second box they discovered was aProgrammatic Box that they felt over-constrained them. The issues produced by this box includedmanagement- and customer-induced pressures, some of which in hindsight were unnecessary andsimply got in the way. The students realized that the decisions they made during the simulationswere unpredictable, that they repeatedly failed to reframe the problem, and, when faced with the sameproblem, different teams produced different solutions. As a result, although the solutions of all theteams met all the documented requirements, they all tended to be over-designed, under-tested andfailed to work. Despite warnings by mentors and management, it took this firsthand experience forthe lessons to really sink in.Our further research in this method for Accelerating Experience includes redesigning the simulationsfor various system definitions and exploring the impact of utilizing MMOG and crowdsourcingmethods to engage broader interaction into the simulations.

Robinson, W., & Pennotti, M. (2013, June), Accelerating Experience with Live Simulation of Designing Complex Systems Paper presented at 2013 ASEE International Forum, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--17214

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