Distributed design systems fundamentally preserve individual design subsystem secrecy by limiting communication across subsystems. The natural secrecy of distributed design makes it difficult for design process managers to determine the appropriate order of subsystems in the design process. In this paper, we discuss a social network theory based heuristic to prescribe the optimal order of design subsystems. We call the order of the design subsystems process architecture and we leverage concepts like ‘distance,’ ‘bridging,’ and degree centrality’ to analyze the aggregate design system and identify preferable solution process architectures. Our network theory approach only requires a manager to know which subsystems share design information. We distinguish this research from previous work by empirically validating the heuristic against a genetic algorithm for 80 randomly generated distributed design systems. The heuristic performs well against the genetic algorithm and beats it in the majority of cases. Moreover, it does so without requiring any function evaluations.

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