Abstract

The socio-technical perspective on engineering system design emphasizes the mutual dynamics between interdisciplinary interactions and system design outcomes. How different disciplines interact with each other depends on technical factors such as design interdependence and system performance. On the other hand, the design outcomes are influenced by social factors such as the frequency of interactions and their distribution. Understanding this co-evolution can lead to not only better behavioral insights, but also efficient communication pathways. In this context, we investigate how to quantify the temporal influences of social and technical factors on interdisciplinary interactions and their influence on system performance. We present a stochastic network-behavior dynamics model that quantifies the design interdependence, discipline-specific interaction decisions, the evolution of system performance, as well as their mutual dynamics. We employ two datasets, one of student subjects designing an automotive engine and the other of NASA engineers designing a spacecraft. Then, we apply statistical Bayesian inference to estimate model parameters and compare insights across the two datasets. The results indicate that design interdependence and social network statistics both have strong positive effects on interdisciplinary interactions for the expert and student subjects alike. For the student subjects, an additional modulating effect of system performance on interactions is observed. Inversely, the total number of interactions, irrespective of their discipline-wise distribution, has a weak but statistically significant positive effect on system performance in both cases. However, excessive interactions mirrored with design interdependence and inflexible design space exploration reduce system performance. These insights support the case for open organizational boundaries as a way for increasing interactions and improving system performance.

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