Change propagation analysis in complex technical systems

Griffin, Monica; de Weck, Olivier; Bounova, Gerganga; Keller, Rene; Eckert, Claudia and Clarkson, P. John (2009). Change propagation analysis in complex technical systems. Journal of Mechanical Design, 131(8) 081001.



Understanding how and why changes propagate during engineering design is critical because most products and systems emerge from predecessors and not through clean sheet design. This paper examines a large data set from industry including 41,500 change requests that were generated during the design of a complex sensor system spanning a period of 8 years. In particular, the networks of connected parent, child, and sibling changes are resolved over time and mapped to 46 subsystem areas of the sensor system. These change networks are then decomposed into one-, two-, and three-node motifs as the fundamental building blocks of change activity. A statistical analysis suggests that only about half (48.2%) of all proposed changes were actually implemented and that some motifs occur much more frequently than others. Furthermore, a set of indices is developed to help classify areas of the system as acceptors or reflectors of change and a normalized change propagation index shows the relative strength of each area on the absorber-multiplier spectrum between −1 and +1. Multipliers are good candidates for more focused change management. Another interesting finding is the quantitative confirmation of the “ripple” change pattern previously proposed. Unlike the earlier prediction, however, it was found that the peak of cyclical change activity occurred late in the program driven by rework discovered during systems integration and functional testing.

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