Design Structure Matrix Methods and Applications

(for Systems Architecting, Organization Design, Process Analysis, and Project Management)


Interactive tutorial with industry examples, exercises, and discussion


Figures Copyright 2012 MIT Press


Products, processes, and organizations are complex systems, challenging to plan and manage.  Fortunately, an advantageous method is coming into mainstream practice for representing and analyzing complex system architectures.  This method, the design structure matrix (DSM), is helping researchers and practitioners plan and manage product architectures, organizational structures, and process flows.

Akin to a traditional N2 diagram and the System2 matrix (SV-3) in the DoD Architecture Framework, the DSM is a square matrix that documents dependencies between system components.  These components can be product parts, teams, processes, activities, or other things.  By doing some simple analysis, one can prescribe a modular system architecture or organization structure.  Adding a time-basis enables one to prescribe a faster, lower-risk process.  Because the DSM highlights process feedbacks, it helps identify iteration and rework loops—key drivers of cost and schedule risk.  The DSM can also show how delays in external inputs, such as requirements and equipment, trace directly to increased cost, schedule, and risk.

The DSM is concise and visually appealing and is in use in a number of industries, companies, and agencies.  (It is also known as the dependency structure matrix and the dependency source matrix.)  People have found the tool extremely useful for fostering architectural and organizational innovation, and for enabling the situation awareness and empowerment of people executing complex processes.

This tutorial introduces the DSM and four distinctive applications useful to product developers, project planners, project managers, systems engineers, and organizational designers.  Real-life examples are presented.  Participants will take away a clear understanding of why dependencies and interfaces are important and how to manage them.  Participants will leave with a course notebook of descriptive materials and access to free tools that can be applied immediately to projects.

The tutorial contains no proprietary information and does not attempt to sell any commercial tools or services.  Public domain and company-approved examples are used.  Some commercial tools are mentioned but none are specifically recommended.  Versions and portions of the tutorial have been given at MIT, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Management Roundtable conference, Project Management Institute chapter meetings, International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) symposia and chapter meetings, and other conferences and workshops.  The tutorial is designed to give participants real insight, understanding, and methods to take back with them to their jobs.  The methods can be applied immediately for quick results and added value.


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