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Using operational risk to increase systems engineering effectiveness




Gallagher, Brian P., author
Sega, Ronald M., advisor
Chong, Edwin, committee member
Young, Peter, committee member
Bradley, Thomas, committee member

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A key activity in the systems engineering process is managing risk. Systems engineers transform end-user needs into requirements that then drive design, development, and deployment activities. Experienced systems engineers are aware of both programmatic risk and technical risk and how these risks impact program outcomes. A programmatic change to cost, schedule, process, team structure, or a wide variety of other elements may impact the engineering effort and increase the risk of failing to deliver a product or capability when needed, with all required functionality, at the promised cost. Technical challenges may introduce risk as well. If a subcomponent or element of the design is immature or doesn’t perform as expected, additional effort may be required to redesign the element or may even necessitate a change in requirements or a complete system re-design. Anticipating programmatic and technical risks and implementing plans to mitigate these risks is part of the systems engineering process. Even with a potent risk management process in place, end-users reject new capabilities when the iii delivered capabilities fail to perform to their expectations or fail to address the end-user’s operational need. The time between the identification of an operational need and the delivery of the resulting capability may be months or even years. When delivered, the new capability either does not fulfil the original need or the need has evolved over time. This disconnect increases operational risk to the end-user’s mission or business objectives. When systems engineers explicitly identify and mitigate operational risk, in addition to programmatic and technical risk, program outcomes are more likely to meet the end-user’s real operational need. The purpose of this research is first to define the activities that could be used by systems engineers to ensure that engineering activities are influenced by operational risk considerations. Secondly, to determine if a focus on operational risk during the systems engineering lifecycle has a positive impact on program outcomes. A structured approach to addressing operational risk during the systems engineering process, Operational Risk-Driven Engineering Requirements/Engineering Development (ORDERED), is introduced. ORDERED includes an exhaustive operational risk taxonomy designed to assist systems engineers with incorporating the end-user’s evolving operational risk considerations into systems engineering activities. iv To examine the relationship between operational risk considerations during the systems engineering process and program outcomes, a survey instrument was developed and administered. In addition, a system dynamics model was developed to examine the relationship between operational risk and technical debt. Finally, case studies of successful and challenged programs were evaluated against characteristics of successfully addressing operational risk during the program lifecycle. These activities lead to the conclusion that a focus on operational risk during the systems engineering lifecycle has a positive impact on program outcomes.


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