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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Engineering : Postgrad (School of Engineering)

Postgraduate Course: Systems Thinking, Systems Practice (MSc) (PGEE11207)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Engineering CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummarySystems Thinking is a way of thinking used to address complex and uncertain real-world problems. It recognises that the world is a set of highly interconnected technical and social entities which are hierarchically organised, producing emergent behaviour.

The idea of a system as 'a set of parts which, when combined, have qualities that are not present in any of the parts themselves' is a very productive way of looking at the world - which turns out to be full of systems. Large engineering programmes are nearly always complex systems which include, for example, people, processes, information, organisations and services, as well as software, hardware and complex products. In order to understand and control these programmes it is essential that a systems approach is taken to ensure that all aspects are understood, and their interactions are optimised to ensure successful delivery.

A characteristic of complex systems (such as large engineering programmes that are embedded with political and social interactions) is that of 'emergence'. Emergent behaviour arises when system elements interact with each other and their environment, and indeed only exist when the components of a system are able to interact. Emergence brings with it the risk of unintended consequences - a major cause of embarrassing system and project failures - but it is also possible for skilled systems engineers to create higher value for less cost by using emergence to deliver desired system qualities.

The course will build on this Systems Thinking to show how the techniques of Systems Engineering can be used within large programmes, and where the limitations of traditional methods become apparent and new data-driven approaches are needed.
Course description In common with the wider MSc in Leading Major Programmes, the course will be delivered in a single semester, with two 1.5-day engagements covering each of two main subjects: Systems Thinking and Systems Practice.
The following details the questions and topics that these two subjects will cover:

Systems Thinking:
- What are the differences between large projects and large programmes?
- What is a system? Systems Thinking
- Why big projects go wrong? How systems engineering can help?
- Complex and Complicated systems: what is the difference and how should each be approached?
- Emergent Behaviour of Complex Systems and Unintended Consequences

Systems Practice:
- The tools of systems engineering
- Is the classical systems engineering model relevant in today's digital environment?
- Case studies from external lecturers: Big Projects: Successes and Failures

Summative assessment for this course will be conducted through two types of coursework:

- Team: Students work in teams of 3 or 4 to analyse an existing programme and evaluate the options to apply systems engineering techniques.

- Individual: Based on personal experience as project managers, the students carry out systems partitioning exercise and carry out risk analysis for two programme and systems management options.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Developed systems thinking to enable him/her to take a rational approach to management of large and complex programmes;
  2. Understood the implications of emergent properties of systems, and how this may have both beneficial and adverse consequences;
  3. Learnt lessons about how large and complex projects and programmes can go wrong and what can be done through systems thinking to avoid cost and time over-runs and failure to meet objectives;
  4. Examined how the techniques of systems engineering can contribute to the successful delivery of large and complex programmes;
  5. Demonstrated how to make the appropriate choice of systems engineering tools tailored to the characteristics of the programme.
Reading List
Completion of this course will require significant private study: reading from the book list below and others, as well as extensive web-based study.
- Donella Meadows, Diana Wright (2017) Thinking in Systems: a Primer Chelsea Green Publishing Co.
- John Gall (2003) The Systems Bible: The Beginner's Guide to Systems Large and Small General Systemantics Press
- Robert Cloutier, Clifton Baldwin, Mary Alice Bone (2015) Systems Engineering Simplified CRC Press
- James Martin (1996) Systems Engineering Guidebook: A Process for Developing Systems and Products CRC Press

- Peter Seng (2007) The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization Random House Business
- Geoffrey West (2017) Scale: The Universal Laws of Life and Death in Organisms, Cities and Companies W&N
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsProgramme Management,Systems Thinking,Complexity,Systems Engineering,Emergent Properties
Course organiserDr Simon Smith
Tel: (0131 6)50 7159
Course secretaryMiss Margaret Robertson
Tel: (0131 6)50 5565
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