The challenge of complexity: the role of design tools in establishing & managing functional outcomes

David Bradley, Edward Simpson, David Dawson

    Research output: Other contribution

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    Systems of all types are becoming increasingly complex and depend for their operation on the integration of a wide range of technologies, often with differing development lead times. This leads to particular issues and complications in relation to the design, development and implementation of large scale military systems where the time from the initial concept to entry into service may extend over one or more decades. This means that concept development and planning must inevitably be based on predictions, themselves based on a range of assumptions, as to the nature of the in service role.

    Not only does this place a particular emphasis on the requirements capture to get things right, and hence be able to do things right, it also brings into question a project management structure in which individuals are, for reasons of career progression, rotated into and out of roles over what are relatively short time periods in relation to the overall project timeframe‡.

    This paper therefore has its origins in a series of discussions as to the role formalisation of the design process might have in relation to the procurement of military systems. This led to questioning whether it would be the case that a better use of resources could be achieved if the design process; its role, operation, methods, procedures and limitations, was better understood, particularly in ensuring that user needs are properly, and fully, expressed and understood by all parties. Such an understanding is essential if the resulting systems are to match and conform to real user needs, rather than those needs as imagined by the designer and manufacturer, issues which involve not only technical considerations but issues of diplomacy, empathy and, in particular, trust.

    The paper therefore sets out to set out and describe the main features of the early stages of the design process and their impact on that process. Particular consideration and emphasis is given to the approach to requirements capture and the elicitation of actual, as opposed to perceived, user need, and the integration of these within an overall system structure which includes issues of maintenance, refurbishment, replacement and upgrading over the service life of a system. This to include the use of formal methods in support of the design process along with a consideration of the costs associated with remediation and change and the role of gatekeepers in managing technological progression and innovation in the context of the project.

    Other design oriented factors included in the discussion are the need to future proof designs by ensuring that a programme of refurbishment, upgrade and replacement is integrated within the design, and that that is supported by mechanisms for evaluating and supporting the introduction of new technologies such as those based around the concepts of Cloud computing and the Digital Twin.

    It is also the case that whatever approach is adopted it must of necessity involve a consideration of the career pathways of service personnel, balancing these with the need for a continuity of oversight across the entirety of service life of the systems.
    Original languageEnglish
    TypeOccasional paper
    Media of outputtext
    PublisherCouncil of Military Education Committees of the Universities of the United Kingdom (COMEC)
    Number of pages14
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

    Publication series

    NameCOMEC occasional paper


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