Systems Design


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  • online
  • on demand



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Who should attend

  • Engineers and engineering managers
  • Team leaders who direct technical projects or teams
  • Technical and IT leaders
  • Solutions architects
  • Professionals looking to improve their ability to design and develop systems and solutions architecture

About the course

Whether you’re developing a software stack or engineering bridges, the need for leaders who can design, develop, and manage complex solutions and systems over their lifecycle is rapidly growing. Drawing on an interdisciplinary systems design approach that can be applied to any field, this program will guide you through the process of developing documentation for any system, from initial scoping through detailed design. You’ll learn to define the systems design challenges you are trying to solve, define functional requirements, and objectively measure the value of any potential systems design solution. After understanding the purpose, intent, and audience for the project, you will utilize fundamental systems design and architecture techniques to develop a deeper understanding of how all of the components of the solution work together.

At the completion of the Systems Design Certificate program, you will come away with not only a practical understanding of how to meet the most stringent requirements for systems design documentation and manage risk across potentially complex projects, but will have a more profound understanding of the big picture, including how each system tool that you invest time in can provide the maximum benefit throughout the design process. Appropriate for engineers, technology leaders, and anyone with a desire to lead a product or systems design process, the concepts learned will help you successfully manage team interactions, client relations, and your own solutions architecture workflow.


Defining Scope

In order to optimize your system, you first need to define it. In this course, you will learn how to use a tool called the Context Diagram to map the responsibilities and elements of your system and how those elements interact with each other. Then you will define the functionality of your system. By using case analysis, you will study the different scenarios that your system may need to accomplish in order to meet your project goals. You will learn not only how to define and analyze your system, but also how to visualize and communicate this information with stakeholders.

Developing System Requirements

This course guides you through the process of deciding how your system should interact with all the elements in the context you identified. You will articulate what your system needs to do to successfully complete its use case using a tool called the Use Case Behavioral Diagram (UCBD). With the UCBD you will derive professional, functional requirements that describe what any valid solution must do throughout its use cases. Then you will develop the UCBD in a way that will meet your customers’ needs, but not so prescriptive that it prevents your team from using all of your talent in service of making your project a success.

Exploring Your System’s Architecture

In this course, you will bring together disparate system functions that have been described in isolation to show how they all might operate together. You will explore what different kinds of interactions might occur in a way that brings your whole team together to create a cohesive solution that truly meets the challenge's needs. Then you will interpret a flexible tool called the Functional Flow Block Diagram that will add value throughout your design-build-test process.

Assessing Your System’s Performance and Value

Decision matrices are one of the most commonly used engineering tools. They are used to help rationalize why one option should be chosen over another, and you can find some form of them in just about every business, industry, and government. Decision matrices may not always be identified as such but can be used as part of a trade study, competitive analysis, or options review. As prevalent as these matrices are, they are also one of the most misused tools out there.

In this course, you begin by developing performance metrics. These performance metrics will allow you to objectively determine the value of any potential solution to a challenge. You will then develop a decision matrix around these metrics by applying justifiable weights and tuning the metrics to account for the needs and priorities of specific customers. By learning how to create a superior decision matrix with these well-defined performance metrics, you can achieve tremendous influence on a project even if you do not have official authority.

Implementing the Quality Function Deployment Method

The quality function deployment (QFD) is one of the most effective methods for relating performance metrics that a customer cares about to technical criteria and engineering parameters and ultimately, the design targets a team needs to build their solution. You will learn that the QFD expresses this relationship in a way that allows you to compare your concepts to your competitors’ and to understand the trade-offs between engineering parameters and their influence on performance criteria. This equips you to argue effectively that your design targets will lead your team to a winning solution.

In this course, you will go through a detailed, step-by-step process to build a QFD for your own project. You will examine the interrelationship between different engineering characteristics. You will use all this information, along with factors such as cost and technical difficulty, to establish strong design targets and get an estimate of your final system’s performance.

The course Assessing Your System’s Performance and Value is required to be completed prior to starting this course.

Defining Interfaces

Interfaces are one of the most important parts of design and design implementation. However, they are often one of the most challenging aspects to identify and manage, and one of the most common points of failure of any system. As a result, there has been a multitude of software developed to aid in managing this process. However, without a strong understanding of the interfaces and how the subsystem teams work together, the use of the software packages is futile. They are only as good as the information put into them.

In this course, you will explore a number of different tools including sequence diagrams and interface matrices to help tease out and formalize your interfaces and interface specifications. This formalization step will help your team to discuss the impact and the dependencies of these interfaces. You will then produce the details and record them as interface specifications so that your team can design and create a well-integrated credible system.

Identifying and Evaluating Risk

Everyone worries about risk. How do we identify risks? Is this issue more risky than another? Or even worse, "Sorry, but this project sounds too risky. We can't approve it." Wouldn't it be better if you could show an objective understanding of risks, how to plan to address them, and be able to justify the decisions behind those plans?

In this course, you will learn how to assess risk with failure modes and effect analysis. You will evaluate different losses of functionality that your system could experience, and determine the possible effects and related causes. You will then develop objective ways of measuring the severity and likelihood of each of these causes, ultimately to develop a quantifiable measure of system risk. You will produce this analysis in a way that not only allows you to make decisions on how to handle these risks, but also justify your actions to others. This course equips you to recognize risk and reduce it.

Key course takeaways

  • Lead the design process to develop systems and solutions
  • Define key design parameters and assess the impact of each parameter
  • Capture design use cases
  • Benchmark against competitors
  • Identify and track interfaces and interrelationships between elements throughout the design process
  • Define formal, verifiable requirements for a solution
  • Map system functions as a functional flow
  • Complete an assessment of likelihood, impact, and overall risk
  • Identify points of uncertainty and potential points of failure in a solution
  • Determine measurement criteria for effectiveness and interpret results

What you'll earn

  • Systems Design Certificate from Cornell Engineering
  • 56 Professional Development Hours (PDHs)


David Schneider

David R. Schneider graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Chemical Engineering in 1999, attended Columbia University Film M.F.A. Program in 2001, and earned his Masters and PhD from Cornell University in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Controls & Dynamics in 2007. D...

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