Defining the Key Decisions that Create System Performance

Every built system has an architecture. Products such as communications satellites, automobiles, semi-conductor capital equipment and commercial aircraft are defined by a few key decisions that are made early in each program's lifecycle. The emerging field of System Architecture aims to understand what patterns emerge across disparate domains, to gain an understanding of "What makes good architecture?"

In the System Architecture Group (a member of MIT's Engineering Systems Laboratory), we study the early-stage technical decisions that will determine the majority of the system's performance. We've helped architect systems from oil exploration platforms for ice-bound drilling to lunar surface exploration vehicles. Our key contention is that by identifying the most important initial technical decisions and exhaustively enumerating their options, we can identify the best potential designs before detailed design activities. Our work stands in contrast to a traditional trade-study perspective, where 2-4 points designs are compared, without reference to the intervening options or to a fully explored tradespace.

The work described here is divided into six research areas:

  1. System Architecture
  2. Satellite Communications
  3. Architecting Exploration
  4. Stakeholder Analysis
  5. Commonality and Platforming
  6. EV Architecture

You can read about the work of the System Architecture Group in our book System Architecture: Strategy and Product Development for Complex Systems at Amazon. View the press release here and the book launch presentation.