Navigating Complex Systems Design with the PEArL Framework

Navigating Complex Systems Design with the PEArL Framework

Donna Champion (School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/IJITSA.2016010102
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The problems and difficulties in complex systems design are more subjective and ambiguous than commonly acknowledged and soft systems tools and frameworks can help to address gaps in knowledge and support judgement throughout the design process. This paper describes the application of the PEArL framework, an intellectual device based on systemic principles, to support a team in a complex product environment manage the ‘soft' challenges in complex systems design. The PEArL framework facilitated the creation and management of inter-disciplinary relationships in a pressurised business environment and provided a structure for validation of the way in which the design process had been undertaken.
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1. Introduction

Traditionally the design of systems was undertaken by a relatively close-knit team of experts and stakeholders working to address a problem or take advantage of an opportunity. Today, the design of complex systems, such as aircraft, automobiles, trains, public services, manufacturing environments etc., require the collaboration of many hundreds of experts with different domain expertise and varied professional training backgrounds, often across a global supply chain. The systems being developed are created around multiple embedded software systems, and are designed in complex, dynamic organizational environments and this complexity creates a step change in the level of difficulty in understanding the emerging properties of a system and the potential interactions between systems at physical, software and human levels (Bonjour and Micaelli, 2010; Ellims et al, 2006). This increased systems complexity and the pressure to deliver products to market in shorter time scales increases the risk of undetected errors and emergent properties developing once a system or product is in operation (Sikora et al, 2012). The process of complex systems design is still managed within the traditional technology-focused, systematic methods that have previously been applied to standard systems design and found wanting. ‘Soft systems’ frameworks for systems design (e.g. Checkland and Holwell, 1998) offer a more holistic approach that can support the designers in thinking through the more subjective aspects of the process. This paper describes the application of the PEArL framework, (Champion, 2007, 2014; Champion and Stowell, 2001, 2003; Champion and Wilson, 2010), to support a team in a complex product environment within the Automotive sector manage the ‘soft’ challenges in complex systems design.

The paper first sets out a brief review of the literature and summarises the problems and challenges associated with the current approaches to designing and managing complex systems. The paper then argues for a systemic approach to inquiry in complex systems design environments and the PEArL framework is explained. The fourth section of the paper describes an application of the PEArL framework within a complex product design environment in the Automotive sector and the paper concludes by setting out some of the strategic advantages of working systemically, rather than systematically, when designing complex systems.

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