The Art of the Trade Study

Systems engineering involves making decisions in order to define, prioritize, and balance technical, cost, and schedule concerns. How are those decisions made? Should decisions be based on data, and if so, how much information is enough? Should decisions be intuition-based, and if so, is this a reliable methodology? Who makes the decision, one person or a group of people? How do you know the right decision was made? These are questions asked by many decision-makers. Each situation calls for the appropriate tools, techniques and methodology, but the common denominator is the Trade Study. The trade study is a core systems engineering skill that provides a repeatable, efficient method for visible, traceable and justifiable decisions.

Effective decisions are made by utilizing a decision-making process that helps the systems engineer evaluate the possibilities – and make the necessary trades to select a viable solution. Why is it important to analyze decisions? Because structured thinking can help overcome biases and a formal process permits decision traceability. Traceability assists others to understand the decision and allows decision process improvement. Additionally, using a structured process provides a better outcome than random choice.

The trade study decision-making process involves:

  • Agreeing on decision framing or how you define the problem within its project context.
  • Identifying alternatives – make sure to consider non-conventional approaches.
  • Modeling the decision – utilize one of many decision modeling methods that best suits the situation.
  • Choosing an alternative based on measuring the attributes for each criterion for each alternative.
  • Conducting sensitivity analysis to determine what makes a difference in each decision option.
  • Implementing the selected alternative or analyze further before making a decision.

Strategy Bridge offers workshops on utilizing the Trade Study in making project decisions. A variety of techniques are presented for use in each part of the structured decision-making process, allowing practitioners to select the best tool for the situation.