Investigating the influence of cultural differences on systems engineering : a case study of the manned spaceflight programs of the United States and China
Author(s)Yeong, Li Qian
Case study of the manned spaceflight programs of the United States and China
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Engineering Systems Division.
Donna H. Rhodes.
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The current trend of globalization as well as the growing complexity of multilateral systems engineering endeavors will contribute to the increasingly cross-cultural nature of systems engineering programs and teams in the future. It is thus vital to investigate if cultural differences have an influence on systems engineering endeavors in order to better understand culture's potential contribution, or impediment, to critical systems engineering outcomes. This thesis proposes a definition of culture that will be meaningful to such an investigation, selects Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory as a tool to apply this definition of culture, and analyzes the manned spaceflight programs of the US and China as a case study to determine if culture does indeed have an influence on systems engineering. The results of this analysis reveal that cultural differences do impact systems engineering endeavors from strategic to operational levels. Important differences in the US and China manned spaceflight programs primarily stemming from differences in the cultural norms of the US and China were found in three main areas of analysis. Firstly, in terms of the purpose of the programs, cultural differences led to differences in the kind of motivations each country had for achieving manned spaceflight, the organizations set up to achieve this goal, and the way leadership approval for the programs was attained. Secondly, in terms of the programs themselves, differences in cultural attitudes towards risk and launch failure led to differences in program schedule, program scope, the nature of the flighttesting schedule, and the extent of quality control measures. Thirdly, in terms of the people involved in the programs, differences in cultural norms led to differences in decision-making styles, use of authority, motivations and earnings of the engineers and astronauts, extent of astronaut involvement in the programs, the extent of manual control built into manned spaceflight launches, the degree of formality of the launches, and media coverage of the launches. Furthermore, these two very different programs were eventually judged to be a success in each nation precisely because of these cultural differences, even though each country's program would have been considered a pyrrhic victory in the other. The conclusions of this thesis propose how this demonstrated influence of culture on systems engineering should be used to inform systems engineering endeavors in the future.
Thesis: S.M., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Engineering Systems Division, 2015.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 149-152).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Engineering Systems Division.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Engineering Systems Division.