Abstract

Communication has been shown to affect the design of large-scale complex engineered systems. Drawing from engineering design, communication, and management literature, this work defines miscommunication as when communication results in a “deficiency” or “problem” that hinders parties from fulfilling their values. This article details a consequential example of miscommunication at a Fortune 500 engineering firm with the potential to affect system performance. In phase 1, interviews with engineering practitioners (n = 82) identified disagreement about what constitutes a parameter “estimate” in the design process. Phase 2 surveyed engineering practitioners (n = 128) about whether estimates communicated for system-level tracking approximate “current” design statuses or “future” design projections. The survey found that both definitions existed throughout the organization and did not correlate with subsystem, position, or design phase. Engineers inadvertently aggregated both current and future estimates into single system-level parameters that informed decision-making, thereby constituting widespread or systemic miscommunication. Thus, even technical concepts may be susceptible to miscommunication and could affect system performance.

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