Systems Thinking - Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and

Systems Thinking
SAE 599
Jim Hines, Gerald Nadler
Systems Thinking
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we
created them."
With rapid changes in science, technology and the internet, the amount of information made
available doubles every two to five years.1 How does one keep current with an overload of data?
How does one decipher, process, organize, and structure that data into learned knowledge that
can be used to solve problems and make decisions? Engineers must deal with these concerns
when developing solutions to technical challenges. Additionally, in an environment of increasing
global competition and frequent development program failures, engineers are pressured to be
more innovative in their solutions.
Too often, however, engineers solve problems by utilizing overly narrow, comfortable, and quick
reductionist approaches that inadequately deal with today's complex, dynamic and diverse
problems. Reductionist problem solving methods focus on collecting data to improve system
components and assume the overall system will improve as a result. However, that strategy often
misses important interactions between system components and emergent, "big picture" systemlevel effects. As a result, reductionist approaches often perform inadequately when applied to
problems of high complexity.SAE 599 Systems Thinking presents an alternative to reductionist
methods. It will introduce students to fundamental concepts of learning, problem solving,
decision-making and thinking patterns, with a focus on systems thinking. Students will learn to
approach problems holistically, looks for patterns and balance interrelationships between system
components to achieve creative and effective solutions. Emphasis is placed on systems thinking
fundamentals: defining problem situations from a systems perspective, describing and modeling
problem situations, and designing and improving upon system solutions. Upon completion of the
course, students will have a framework of concepts, methods, and tools that have been
successfully applied to develop complex systems across a variety of industries including
aerospace, energy, transportation, health care, and security.
1. Abdullah, M.L. “Productivity Improvement in the Service Sector”, Asian Productivity Organization,
2. Murnane, R. and Levy. F. “Teaching the New Basic Skills Principles for Educating Children to Thrive
in a Changing Economy”. New York The Free Pres. 1996
Course Learning Objectives
After completing this course students will be able to:
 Provide an overview on cognitive psychology aspects of learning and thinking (concept
formation problem solving, and decision making)
 Discuss how engineers “architect” and design solutions
 Understand the history and evolution of systems thinking
 Get a perspective on complexity and chaos and on solving those type of problems
 Establish a basic understanding of various systems thinking methodologies (hard, soft,
meta) and processes.
 Examine systems architecting & engineering methods
 Identify various tools to facilitate forming concepts, solving problems and making
 Evaluate when it is appropriate to apply analysis thinking methods, i.e. reductionist
methods (ex. data collection, scientific method, etc.) as opposed to applying systems
thinking methods (ex.Systems Engineering, Breakthrough Thinking/Smart Questions,
 Describe and model solutions that will enable system thinking (ex. mind maps, feedback
& causal loops, behavior over time diagrams, etc.)
 Apply the Smart Questions phases to various problems. (socio - technical, supply chain,
value chain / lean, etc.)
 Translate system thinking objectives into a problem statement that can be solved by
traditional engineering disciplines (EE, ME, CE, CECS, ISE, Sciences etc.)
Jim Hines: Adjunct Associate Professor; Over 30 years of industrial experience working for
Alcoa, Colt Industries, LTV Aerospace and the Boeing Company. Mr. Hines recently retired
from the Boeing after ~20 years. Prior to retiring he was the systems engineering director of the
Huntington Beach site and the Boeing enterprise systems engineering skill leader. Mr. Hines has
Engineering Master Degrees in Ceramic Science, Metallurgy, Engineering Management, and a
Dr. Gerry Nadler: Professor Emeritus of Industrial and Systems Engineering and
IBM Chair Emeritus in Engineering Management. Academically, Dr. Nadler has been an
instructor at Purdue, Professor and department chair at Washington University, University of
Wisconsin-Madison, and USC and served in five invited (four abroad) visiting professorships.
Professionally on three advisory boards in areas of planning and design methods and
management, president of international Institute of Industrial Engineers, chair of four national
conferences, over 800 lectures and keynote addresses, over 25 international and national awards,
including election to the National Academy of Engineering, author of 14 books and over 225
articles. Master’s and Doctoral degrees were awarded from Purdue University
Guest Lecturers
Dr. Heidi Davidz: Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) Manager at Pratt & Whitney
Rocketdyne at NASA Stennis Space Center. ACE is the operating system used to drive
continuous improvement and business results. She has previously worked for Aerospace
Corporation and GE Aircraft engines. Her doctoral degree was awarded in the Engineering
Systems Division (ESD) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with sponsorship
from the Lean Aerospace Initiative (LAI)
Michael Hogan: Boeing Engineer. Works to help engineering teams at the Boeing Company
continuously improve their product development processes. His experience has crossed all
phases of the Systems Engineering lifecycle from concept development through customer
validation. Previously Mr. Hogan worked on the Army’s Future Combat System Program.
Michael is also the acting Western Region Vice President for the Institute of Industrial
Engineers. He holds Master and Bachelor degrees in Industrial & Systems Engineering from the
University of Southern California.
Dr. Richard John: Associate Professor of Psychology, Chair of the University Park Institutional
Review Board (UPIRB) and affiliated with CREATE- Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of
Terrorism Events, has present numerous conference papers and written several book chapters
and journal articles in field of quantitative psychology. Doctoral degree was awarded from
University of Southern California.
Paul Newton: Senior Operational Concept Analyst for Boeing's Research & Technology
organization where he is part of an internal consulting group that applies the feedback thinking
of system dynamics, via computer simulation, to business strategy across the Boeing enterprise.
He holds an M.S. in structural engineering from N.C. State University, and is ABD for a M.Phil
in system dynamics from the University of Bergen in Norway.
Theodore K. Mayeshiba: Lecturer in the USC Daniel J. Epstein School of Industrial and
Systems Engineering and a Principal of Action Consulting & Training, a nationwide consulting
firm based in Irvine, CA. Ted has taught and implemented Lean events for companies as diverse
as Gillette, Tennaco, Disney, Johnson Controls and Boeing. Mr. Mayeshiba has his MBA from
the University of Southern California.
Class Project
Text Books:
1. Adams, J.L., Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas, Third
Edition, Basic Books; 1990 (Book)
2. Kim, D. H., Systems Thinking Tools: A User’s Reference Guide, Pegasus Communications,
Inc. 2000 (Book)
3. Nadler. G. and Chandon, Smart Questions: Learn to Ask the Right Questions
for Powerful Results, John Wiley and Sons, 2004 (Book)
4. Course reader will also be assembled for this course. This will expose students to a variety of
resource materials including course slides
Website: USC URL _Learning
DEN Exams and Proctoring [email protected], (213) 821-3136
fax: (213) 821-0851
Technical Support [email protected]
Online Services, Webcast Problems, Software Questions or General Technical
Departmental, Program and Student Advice:
(213) 821-1321
Mary Ordaz, ISE Student Services Advisor, 213-740-4886
Academic Integrity Statement - "The School of Engineering adheres to the University's
policies and procedures governing academic integrity as described in USC Campus. Students are
expected to be aware of and to observe the academic integrity standards described in USC
Campus, and to expect those standards to be enforced in this course.
Students with Disabilities:
"Any Student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register
with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for
approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to
me (or to TA) as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30
a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213)740-0776."
Course Structure:
Week Topic
Week Due
Thinking Concepts and Systems Thinking Terminology
What and Why Systems Thinking: A View from the Past to Present
Exercise 1
Dealing with Complexity and Chaos
Exercise 2
Processes & Methods I:
Types of Systems Thinking
Exercise 3
Processes & Methods II:
Systems Architecting & Engineering
Exercise 4
Processes & Methods III:
System Dynamics
Exercise 5
Systems Thinking Tools
Exercise 6
Midterm & Project Selection
Smart Questions Case Study I:
Describing and Understanding the Problem
Project Part I:
Problem Statement
Smart Questions Case Study II:
Future Solution
Project Part II:
Future Solution
Smart Questions Case Study III:
Living Solution for Today and Tomorrow
Project Part III:
Living Solution
Systems Implementation
Project Part IV:
Research Needs Regarding Future Systems Thinking and Next Steps
Class Project: Game Day
Project Part IV:
Class Project: Presentations
Texts & Course Reader: A course reader will be assembled for this course. The course reader
will expose students to a variety of resource publications with different perspectives.
“SOURCES: Students must properly reference all sources. SAE Program uses
the service to look for matches with existing books, magazine and
newspaper articles, journals, prior student papers, and all Internet sources.
If a student directly quotes text from a source, they must properly designate
quoted material “in quotation marks” or in italics, and give a citation for each
quotation via a footnote or a numbered reference. Please do not use in-text
(author-date) notation for citations. The amount of quoted text relative to the total
text in your paper should be kept to a minimum-- if excessive; this will detract
from the paper’s grade.
WARNING: Failure to properly designate copy-and-pasted text will be
considered as a violation of academic integrity (see University Policy Statements
at the beginning of this syllabus). This includes quotations from your prior papers
(e.g. from SAE 549 or other classes)!
Remember students can build on their own work from other classes, and from
other authors’ works, as long as they properly cite those references. The student
must not directly copy text from those sources (unless properly marked and cited
as a quotation). Instead, you must add value by restating such work in your own
words plus your own enhancements, such that the combination has enhanced
relevance to this class.
The student can directly copy graphics, tables, or figures if they give a citation for
each copied item via a footnote or a numbered reference. Although there is no
limitation on the amount of copied items, the student’s own artwork-- however
crude yet clearly legible and illustrative-- is always acceptable.
LIMITS: The SAE Program cannot accept a request to limit access to abstracts or
research papers. Although the plan is not to disseminate student’s work without
their permission, The SAE Program cannot guarantee that other people (including
non-US citizens) will not view or handle your submitted materials. Thus student
must not use classified, proprietary or company limited-distribution materials in
their coursework. If a student’s employer requires review and approval for their
submitted materials (e.g. Public Affairs Office or Export Compliance Review)
then the student must obtain such approval within the deadlines listed in this
syllabus. As the approval practices in many companies may be time consuming,
the best practice is not to use company material at all.”
Reference: Ken Cureton
1. Russell L. Ackoff (1999) Ackoff's Best NY: Wiley
2. Virginia Anderson and Lauren Johnson (1997) Systems Thinking Basics: From
Concepts to Causal Loops (Pegasus)
3. Robert Axelrod and Michael D. Cohen ( ) Harnessing Complexity
4. Bela H. Banathy (1996) Designing Social Systems in a Changing World NY: Plenum
5. Bela H. Banathy (2000) The Guided Evolution of Society NY: Plenum/Kluwer
6. Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1968) General System theory: Foundations, Development,
Applications, George Braziller New York
7. Barron, J. 2008, Thinking and deciding, 4th ed. Cambridge Univ Press
8. Peter Checkland (1981) Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. (Wiley)
9. Peter Checkland Jim Scholes (1990) Soft Systems Methodology in Action. (Wiley)
ISBN 0-471-92768-6
10. Peter Checkland Jim Sue Holwell (1998) Information, Systems and Information
Systems. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-95820-4
11. Joseph O'Connor, Ian McDermott (1997) The Art of Systems Thinking: Revolutionary
Techniques to Transform Your Business and Your Life HarperCollins.
12. H.L. Davidz, Enabling Systems Thinking To Accelerate The Development Of Senior
Systems Engineers, Doctor Of Philosophy In Engineering Systemsat The
Massachusetts Institute Of Technology, February 2006
13. Flood. R.L., Carson, E.R., Dealing with Complexity: An Introduction to the Theory
and Application of Systems Science, Plenum Press, N.Y., 1990
14. John Gall (1978) Systemantics Pocket Books
15. Jamshid Gharajedaghi Systems (2005) Thinking, Second Edition: Managing Chaos
and Complexity: A Platform for Designing Business Architecture (ButterworthHeinemann)
16. Charles L. Hutchins (1996) Systemic Thinking: Solving Complex Problems CO:PDS
ISBN 1-888017-51-1
17. Hitchins, D.K., Advanced Systems Thinking, Engineering, Management, Artech
House, Boston, 2003
18. Michael C. Jackson ( ) Systems Thinking; Creative Holism for Managers
19. Bradford Keeney (1983) Aesthetics of Change Guilford Press
20. Keeney, R. 1992, Value focused thinking. Harvard Univ. Press
21. Daniel H. Kim Introduction to Systems Thinking (Pegasus Communications Inc.)
22. Daniel H. Kim (1995) "Systems Thinking Tools: A User's Reference Guide" Part of
the Toolbox Reprint Series. (Pegasus Communications Inc.)
23. Draper Kauffman ( ) System One and System Two
24. M. Davidson, Uncommon sense: The life and thought of Ludwig von Bertalanffy,
Father of General Systems Theory (J. P. Tarcher, Inc)
25. Gerald Nadler, Shozo Hibino (1999) Creative Solution Finding: The Triumph of
Breakthrough Thinking over Conventional Problem Solving Prima Publishing
26. Gerald Nadler, William Chandon ((2004) Smart Questions: Learn to Ask The Right
Questions For Powerful Results John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
27. Tom Ritchey (2002) General Morphological Analysis: A General Method for NonQuantified Modelling
28. Mitchell Resnick ( ) Turtles, Termites and Traffic Jams
29. Peter M. Senge (1990) The Fifth Discipline - The Art & Practice of The Learning
Organization (Currency Doubleday).
30. Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross and Smith The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook
31. Sherwood, D., Seeing the Forest for the Trees: A Manager’s Guide to Applying
Systems Thinking, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, 2002
32. Lars Skyttner (2006) General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspective, Practice
(World Scientific Publishing Company) ISBN 9-812-56467-5
33. Gerald M. Weinberg (1975) An Introduction to General Systems Thinking (1975 ed.,
Wiley-Interscience) (2001 ed. Dorset House).
34. Brian Wilson (Systems) (1984) Systems: Concepts, Methodologies and Applications.
(Wiley) ISBN 0-471-92716-3
35. Brian Wilson (Systems) (2001) Soft Systems Methodology: Conceptual Model
Building and its Contribution. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-89489-3
36. Midgley, G., Systems Thinking, Volume IV, Critical Systems Thinking and Systemic
Perspectives on Ethics, Power and Pluralism, Sage Publications, 2003
37. Skyttner, L., General Systems Theory: Ideas & Applications, Chapter 11: The Future
of Systems Theory, World Scientific, N.J., 2001
38. Adams, James L., Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas, Third Edition,
Addison-Wesley, 1990
39. Cabrera, D., ”Patterns of Thinking: Essential Skills for the 21st Century,” 21st
CENTURYTHINKER series, Nov. 15,2007
40. English, L., Lesh, R., and Fennewald, T., “Future Directions and Perspectives for
Problem Solving Research and Curriculum Development, ICME, 2008
41. Paul, R., Persson, A., Boyadjain, B., Create Fun @ Work: Improve your productivity,
quality of life, and the morale of those around you, Knowledge Capture & Transfer,
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