Engineering Systems Analysis for Design


of Cambridge

Options Papers and theses by de Neufville and others

This course provides the conceptual and analytic basis for a new approach to design: the use of Flexibility in the Design of Engineering Systems.  The aim is to increase expected performance over time by building into a project the flexibility that will enable its owners and operators to adapt the system to the circumstances that eventually prevail.  The essence of the approach is to avoid downside risks and take advantage of new opportunities, and thus to shift the distribution of possible outcomes advantageously. 

"Flexible Design" represents a paradigmatic shift in engineering design.  
It moves us away from the traditional focus on meeting fixed specifications, and toward the active management of uncertainty in the implementation of engineering systems.  The development of this approach is one of the central concerns of the MIT Engineering Systems Division.  It is a major new topic for engineering practice, which conventionally has not dealt with the many factors (such as technological, market and regulatory changes) that determine the ultimate value of any system.  Systems studies indicate that Flexibility in Design can lead to major increases in performance over traditional practice, easily on the order of 25%.

Flexibility in Design is useful across the spectrum of technological projects, although it must be adapted to the features of the problem. Because of its wide applicability, this subject is an MIT School-wide elective, with course designations across Engineering as: ESD 71, 1.146, 3.56, 16.861, and 22.821. 

Many faculty and graduate students have applied flexibility in design, prepared specific techniques to deal with particular issues, and demonstrated their use through a variety of case studies.  The development of suitable procedures is a central research issue, and offers many thesis possibilities.

Professor de Neufville is responsible for the subject.  He has received many MIT and international awards for his contributions to Engineering Systems Analysis and teaching.  At MIT, he holds dual appointments in both Engineering Systems and in Civil and Environmental Engineering. From 1975 to 2000, he was Founding Chairman of the MIT Technology and Policy Program.  He also holds visiting appointments at Harvard (Kennedy School of Government), the University of Cambrige (Judge Business School) and the Instituto Superior Tecnico of Lisbon. See his personal website for his publications and his resume for his career details.

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