Integrating Agile Systems Engineering and Project Management in Small Satellites Development
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This dissertation aims to improve our understanding of applied research projects in academia, in particular, how the integration of Systems Engineering (SE) and Project Management (PM) activities can support these projects. This is studied in the context of a university CubeSat organization called HYPSO, which aims at contributing scientific data and operational capabilities in a network of autonomous systems to improve our monitoring and understanding of the oceans. This network is a part of the Mission-oriented Autonomous Systems with Small Satellites for Maritime Sensing, Surveillance and Communication (MASSIVE) project. The overarching goal of the project organization is to reduce the time between the mission concept is defined and launch while still ensuring project success, through changing and adapting their development methodology and processes. The project is highly interdisciplinary and produces complex engineered systems. SE and PM offer heuristics for addressing complexity, but require resources and competencies not found in many academic research projects. Little empirical research was found on how universities conduct applied research projects, and to what degree SE and PM practices are applied. The research aim and goal gave the following research questions: RQ-0: What are known sociotechnical challenges in university CubeSat projects and how can they be addressed? RQ-1: What factors influence the development time of university CubeSat systems? RQ-2: To what extent do agile processes support known university CubeSat project challenges linked to knowledge management, system testing, project management, and team composition? RQ-3: To what extent can Model-Based Systems Engineering support university CubeSat projects and the development of System-of-Systems? These are addressed based on the findings from (i) a longitudinal replication case study of a university CubeSat team consisting of long-term PhD-level researchers and students that join the project for the duration of a schoolyear; and (ii) 18 semi-structured interviews. Participatory Action Research and interviews are the primary methods for collecting the data. The analysis is supported by system modeling methods and tools such as Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE), Systemigrams, Agile Decision-Guidance, Readiness Levels, and N2-diagrams. The research questions are addressed through the ten publications included in this thesis. RQ-0 is addressed in the literature review, and supported by findings from the case study. The literature review highlights sociotechnical challenges encountered when conducting CubeSat projects at universities: project management, team and organization, balancing schoolwork with project work, ensuring mission success, knowledge management, and stakeholder management. RQ-1 goes deeper into the case study, developing an understanding of what factors affect the development time of space systems in university CubeSat projects. A combination of analysis methods highlights the following factors: external facilities and support environment, communication and information flow, goal alignment and clear objectives, work planning and knowledge management. In RQ-2, this dissertation looks at how agile SE and PM practices meet these challenges, by using the HYPSO project as a replication case study. Agile values (often operationalized by Scrum or eXtreme Programming frameworks) promote “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”, “Working software over comprehensive documentation”, “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation”, and “Responding to change over following a plan” . Findings from the case study show that the project exhibits many characteristics suitable for an agile approach, as opposed to a directed plan approach. A tailored Scrum approach enables improved planning, communication, alignment of goals, and responsiveness to stakeholders, changing working situations, external facilities and the support environment. In addition, the project was well supported by digital tools and workflows, contributing to moving the organization towards adopting Digital Engineering. RQ-3 investigates to what extent MBSE practices can support university CubeSat projects and address some of the challenges identified in RQ-0 and RQ-1. MBSE is hailed as a paradigm shift in SE, improving the workflow by enabling system designers and stakeholders to describe the complex system-of-interest from different viewpoints, without losing the semantic relationship between the operational, logical, physical, and system viewpoints. Findings from the application of MBSE in the case study show possible improvements in traceability of dependability analysis and system design, when compared to document-based SE. There is also potential to reuse dependability and system design for future satellites, which could lower the resource needs moving forward. The findings reported in this thesis indicate that taking a Systems-of-Systems (SoS) approach to viewing the MASSIVE project supported the design process of the different Constituent Systems (CS) and identified missing functionality and interfaces by establishing an overall SoS architecture and concept of operations. This research contributes to both theory and practice by showing how an integrated approach to agile Systems Engineering and Project Management supported by Digital Engineering tools and methods can improve the way applied research projects are managed at universities, specifically when developing systems for space. In addition, the research contributes with experiential evidence of the value of using an SoS viewpoint to coordinate the development efforts and integration of multiple assets. This dissertation supports the efforts of adopting MBSE, and further towards Digital Engineering.