The manager as a system's controller: an application of management systems engineering concepts

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Virginia Tech


This research is about technology transfer from engineering to management. According to Kerlinger’s (1979) terminology, most practical management problems are formulated as engineering problems. So, it is legitimate to adapt general engineering techniques to solve those problems. In Industrial Dynamics, Forrester (1961) says “the practice of medicine or of engineering began as an empirical art representing only the exercise of judgment based on experience. The development of the underlying sciences was motivated by the need to understand better the foundation on which the art is rested.” Engineering evolved from an art after practitioners applied relationships explained by basic laws of nature. Engineers design and predict the performance of the systems they work with. At most, managers hope for acceptable performance; management is still much an art, whose practitioners study relationships based on data and observation. Therefore, the objective of this research is twofold:

to establish the groundwork for a discipline of management systems engineering, and to provide one example of its application.

A management system is any organizational position, its scope of authority, and its management tools. The Management System Model (MSM) describes a management system as the interaction between the manager, the operation, and the management tools (Kurstedt, Mendes, & Lee, 1988). Management systems engineering involves the specification, design, implementation and maintenance of management systems. The specification of a management system identifies the required performance characteristics in response to given events. The design is the prediction, with the aid of mathematical models, of the actual responses (outputs) to those events (inputs). The conceptual part of this research involves the development of mathematical models as fundamental tools to specify and design engineering systems. One significant contribution is the development of the conceptual framework and the demonstration of a quantitative analog for the MSM.

The applied part of this research draws upon an emergency exercise in an industrial plant (the United States Department of Energy’s Feed Materials Production Center at Fernald, Ohio). An emergency is any event that threatens the integrity of people, environment, or assets. In the context of this research, emergency response is the set of actions required to neutralize or reduce the effects of the threatening event. An emergency exercise is the live simulation of the response to a dangerous situation in an industrial setting. The management system is composed of the plant management, the industrial plant where a simulated accident occurs, and the management tools used during the emergency. Specifically, the objective of the applied part is to show we can use a mathematical model to describe the dynamics of the emergency management system and make short-term predictions.

The mathematical model is a control theory-based system estimator. The data to compare the model against is time series data generated from information portrayed to the plant management during the unfolding of the exercise. Therefore, this research describes a longitudinal study. The similarity between the data and the model results is apparent in graphical representations and statistically demonstrated through spectral cross-correlation analysis. So, another significant contribution is revitalizing the formal application of control theory to the study of management situations.