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Applying Theory Of Constraints To Solicit Feedback And Structure Improvements To A Capstone Design Experience

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.202.1 - 6.202.10



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Paper Authors

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Steve Beyerlein

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Dan Gerbus

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Edwin Odom

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1125

Applying Theory of Constraints to Solicit Feedback and Structure Improvements to a Capstone Design Experience Dan Gerbus, Edwin Odom, and Steve Beyerlein University of Idaho Mechanical Engineering Department


A transitional step in engineering education is the capstone design experience, which ideally emphasizes all phases of product realization as well as positive team dynamics. This paper describes an assessment and planning exercise used by capstone design instructors at the University of Idaho for the last five years. The exercise is based on Goldratt’s theory of constraints and serves as a barometer of student preparation and team development in our year- long capstone design course. Results are presented in a graphical “prerequisites tree” that guides course sequencing. Prerequisite Trees were found to be quite similar from year to year. Items at the bottom of the tree, requiring initial attention, are not technical and are not generally project- dependent. These items tend to be personal and inter-personal issues, including self-learning skills, well-founded self-confidence, appreciation for diverse skill sets, and strong oral/written communication. The process of developing a classwide Prerequisites Tree during the first week of class underscores the importance of these non-technical issues and motivates proactive behavior in project teams. The Prerequisites Tree also provides a tool for monitoring individual and team development, suggesting timely interventions appropriate for any large engineering project.

I. Program Context

The capstone design experience is expected to unify a broad spectrum of design, teamwork, and communication competencies. These skill sets are diverse and multi-tiered. The Boeing Company, for example, lists some of these skill sets as desired attributes in engineers shown in Figure 1. These are mirrored in the Engineering Criteria 2000 recently implemented by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)1. Furthermore, each program is expected to monitor the performance capabilities of its graduates and pursue appropriate improvement activities. This expectation places even higher expectations on engineering capstone courses. The assessment and project planning process described in this paper offers a thoughtful response to these challenges. It has been implemented in our Mechanical Engineering capstone design course for the last five years.

Our capstone design course is a two-semester sequence that begins with customer interviews each September and results in a hardware prototype displayed at the Idaho Design Exposition each May. Undergraduate students are introduced to their graduate student mentors from the Idaho Engineering Works2 in a shop familiarization project. This year they made a key-

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Beyerlein, S., & Gerbus, D., & Odom, E. (2001, June), Applying Theory Of Constraints To Solicit Feedback And Structure Improvements To A Capstone Design Experience Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--8913

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