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LMU to Coordinate International Lean Systems Engineering Project

Loyola Marymount University is coordinating the international project “Lean Enablers for Systems Engineering,” defining best practices in aerospace programs. The university will bring together the work of 16 experts from MIT and Stanford, the U.S. Air Force, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Collins, Toyota and aerospace institutions from the France, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

NASA and the U.S. Government Accounting Office and other institutions recently called for improvements in the application of systems engineering, the practice of managing complex projects, to aerospace programs. They deemed the traditional processes sound, but not always applied effectively. The current project addresses these concerns.

Lean is the management paradigm credited for the extraordinary success of Toyota in its monotonic rise to the most profitable and largest auto company in the world.  It is based on pursuit of value with minimum waste. It has been adopted and emulated by thousands of manufacturing companies worldwide. LMU coordinates the international project of applying Lean to systems engineering in aerospace applications. 

Lean Systems Engineering applies lean principles, practices and tools to systems engineering to enhance the delivery of value to the system’s stakeholders: delivering the best product or mission, shortening the program schedule, and lowering the cost.

The project started under the auspices of the MIT-based consortium called Lean Advancement Initiative, including all major defense companies, the U.S. military and a network of associated universities. “LMU is the first university to have been invited into the Educational Network of the LAI,” said Bohdan Oppenheim, professor of mechanical and systems engineering at LMU, founder and co-chairman of the team.  The project then migrated to the International Council for Systems Engineering (INCOSE), a professional society with worldwide membership of 7,000 systems engineers, because of the easy access to a large number of practitioners. This project is carried out by volunteers from the Lean Systems Engineering Working Group of INCOSE, founded by Oppenheim, who is acting as the coordinating editor.

The underlying philosophy of the project is to define about 180 detailed practices involving the collective wisdom of what to do and what not to do when pursuing systems engineering activities. The project is meant to define the baseline of excellence, which individual programs could emulate in pursuit of continuous improvement. 

“Lean Enablers for Systems Engineering captures lessons experienced so they can be learned by others,” said Air Force Col. Jim Horejsi. “They represent real-world experiences viewed through an academic perspective/framework.”

Their goal is to have the document finished this year and posted on the INCOSE Web site.  A definition of Lean Enablers and detailed practices will be presented to the working group at the annual workshop in San Francisco in January 2009.

This will be followed by workshops and seminars offered to academia, industry and practice communities.  Workshops have been scheduled in Los Angeles (March 2009), Israel (March 2009) and France (May 2009). The prototype of Lean Enablers is currently being validated by comparisons with NASA and GAO recommendations, and by a survey of 90 members of the working group.