Transnational Research Associates




Art Madsen, M.Ed.


1.         This course consisted of extensive systems analysis, a plethora of engineering concepts, and a wide variety of platforms for clarification of course-material, notably distinguished guest speakers, a semester-long project, class lectures, and presentations.


 During analysis and development of, for example, our robot-based project, the vast number of concepts and components that comprise the systems involved particularly impressed me.  Our exploration of top-level and critical requirements, as well as sub-systems, plus a number of related conceptual areas, taught me what I will need to know in the professional engineering environment in the years to come.


I was also privileged to become acquainted with a full range of cross-disciplinary specialists, including computer science, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, marketing, and chemical engineering graduate students.  We learned to bring our talents together and to cooperate with the aim of developing and producing a project analysis reflecting a valid systems engineering approach. Concurrent engineering constituted one of the basic principles that we employed during the semester and will utilize, later, in professional settings.


There were also many interdisciplinary managerial and systems models that I found fascinating, because these project management paradigms combined my interest in international business with my graduate level industrial engineering coursework.  By properly structuring an organization, taking human factors into account, and incorporating quality control, logistics and other systems engineering criteria, it is possible to maintain a firm’s financial solvency and produce quality products for the public or private sector.


2.         A Statement of Work is essentially a descriptive narration of all of the work necessary for completion of a given project.  This document constituting a summary, an identification of input, and specifications, is used to guide the project toward desired results and objectives.  Because it will be read and assimilated by all key personnel within the firm, it needs to be clear, concise, and objective in its phrasing.


The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), on the other hand, is actually a sort of product-oriented family tree. In fact, the WBS actually displays and defines the product or project to be developed or produced by hardware, software, or support element, and relates the work scope elements to all other components and to the end product. Ideally, the WBS defines all contractually authorized work. A WBS is usually developed and refined during the proposal phase.
After awarding of the contract, the Project Manager usually enlarges the WBS into a Contract Work Breakdown Structure (CWBS) as the first step in the planning process. WBS expansion should extend the CWBS so that it sets up the framework for work definitions and assignments to each of the sub-organizations responsible for performing the work. The extended CWBS must include the levels at which reporting information is written-up for transfer to the client.


3.         Without a coherent system for planning, strategizing, organizing, and assembling a given project’s stages or components the initiative involved would be doomed to failure.  Systems engineering is a precise and detailed approach to ensuring ‘order and method’ in the execution of often complex projects.  There are a multiplicity of systems approaches that can be used to optimize performance and productivity within the project context.  Because they provide a hierarchy, manage inputs and outputs, and furnish the necessary means or mechanisms, systems are indispensable. The engineering aspect of systems engineering incorporates methodic transformation of operational needs and ensures high quality productivity and results. 


There should be a maintainability program within every system model.  It needs to be integrated with a reliability program.  All aspects of a given project need to be coordinated in order to achieve continuity and optimization of performance and/or productivity. Both maintenance and reliability are directly concerned with failure prevention.  A third factor can also be included in the mix of decisive systems factors, namely “produceability” which basically evaluates or measures the ease and economy (or lack thereof) of producing the desired results.  Intermeshed with this parameter is quality control.


4.         In risk management, an indispensable feature of all systems, there are a number of important elements that are focused on identifying and assessing risk potential in any type of project. The basic concept is to recognize that something will almost inevitably ‘go wrong’, to guard against it, and to provide a contingency alternative.


The system used to control risk involves these critical components: identification, analysis, measurement, abatement, development of an alternate option, as well as an ongoing assessment of risk.


            Once a risk management program is established, it has certain benefits, notably that alternate plans have been developed. Also, a thorough risk analysis usually results in accurate contingency cost projections and budgets can therefore be planned appropriately.


But, in another sense, ‘beneficial risk’, itself, consists of the concept that high risk can produce high payoff and that criteria for controlling and managing risk, to a firm’s advantage, can be developed.  My mitigating (reducing) risk, for example, overall productivity and efficiency can be achieved – another benefit. 


Technical Performance Measures (TPM) assist in the identification of risk and in defining the criteria related to it.  By providing engineers with TPM guidance and standards, the risks of not achieving these levels of performance can be better understood and confronted.


5.         Any organization would find it advantageous to periodically review its project or design standards or criteria.  Once a preliminary system has been approved and moves toward the development and operational phases, it becomes essential to review initial design criteria with a view toward modification or improvement.


6.         There are several types of system design reviews that would specifically interest a program manager (PM) because of his or her responsibility to ensure functioning of the overall operational integrity of the plant.  Among these are conceptual design reviews, system design reviews, equipment design reviews and critical design reviews.  By following-up on major system milestones with reviews and inspection procedures, the PM can be reassured that the most effective pressures are being taken to ensure excellence.


7.         The major purpose of a contract is to ensure supplier performance and compliance with contractually stipulated terms. The terms may apply to procurement activity, development or design, and to technical requirements, among other aspects of projects and programs. If suppliers fail to provide quality sub-systems and components, the entire project could be compromised.  Thus, a contract becomes necessary.


8.         A contract generally contains a detailed breakdown of items covered by its terms and conditions.  It sets forth the responsibilities and obligations of all parties signing it. And it provides penalties for non-compliance.  These are usually cost and fee related penalties.  Major contracts contain highly precise language protecting, as well as binding, all parties.


            Negotiation of contracts occurs once suppliers and contractors, i.e. all contracting parties, have been selected or identified as willing to collaborate on a given project.  Negotiations then proceed to determine the type and scope of the proposed contract.  It can be a “firm fixed term price” contract, where the supplier absorbs risks, or it can be a “cost plus” contract where the primary contracting party (the contractor) takes most of the risk.  There are also other options where risks and responsibilities are more equally shared.  Additionally, there are incentive-type contracts, when unknown factors may offset performance, and the supplier’s performance is judged (and rewarded) after completion of work.  It would be accurate to state that there are many permutations of the foregoing contractual arrangements that can be made by the signatories.