The emergent structures in digital engineering work: What can we learn from dynamic DSMs of near-identical systems design projects?

James Gopsill, Christopher Snider, Ben Hicks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (SciVal)
28 Downloads (Pure)


Design structure matrices (DSMs) are widely known for their ability to support engineers in the management of dependencies across product and organisational architectures. Recent work in the field has exploited product lifecycle management systems to generate DSMs via the co-occurrence of edits to engineering files. These are referred to as dynamic DSMs and results have demonstrated both the efficacy and accuracy of dynamic DSMs in representing engineering work and emergent product architectures. The wide-ranging applicability of the theoretical model and associated analytical process to generate dynamic DSMs enables investigations into the evolving structures within digital engineering work. This paper uses this new capability and presents the results of the world's first comparison of dynamic DSMs from a set of near-identical systems design projects. Through comparison of the dynamic DSMs' end-of-project state, change propagation characteristics and evolutionary behaviour, 10 emergent structures are elicited. These emergent structures are considered in the context of team performance and design intent in order to explain and code the identified structures. The significance of these structures for the management of future systems design projects in terms of productivity and efficacy is also described.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere28
JournalDesign Science
Early online date9 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The work reported in this paper has been undertaken as part of the EPSRC Language of Collaborative Manufacturing (EP/K014196/2), UKRI NCC Researcher in Residence (EP/R513556/1) and EPSRC Trans-disciplinary Engineering (EP/R013179/1) Grants held at the University of Bath and University of Bristol. Underlying data are openly available from the University of Bath Research Data Archive at

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s) 2019.


  • design project guidelines
  • design structure matrices
  • graph theory
  • network analysis
  • product lifecycle management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Modelling and Simulation
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Engineering(all)


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