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The "Virtual Design Team": Using Computers to Model Information Processing and Communication in Organizations

TitleThe "Virtual Design Team": Using Computers to Model Information Processing and Communication in Organizations
Publication TypeWorking Paper
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsLevitt, RE, Cohen, GP, Kunz, J, Nass, CI
Date Published07/1992
Publication Languageeng
KeywordsCenter for Integrated Facility Engineering, CIFE, Communication, Information Processing, Simulation, Stanford University, VDT, Virtual Design Team
AbstractThis paper reports the initial results of a project to build and test a computer simulation model of information processing and communication in a multidisciplinary engineering design organization. The Virtual Design Team (VDT) is a computational discrete event simulation model based on qualitative reasoning concepts derived from artificial intelligence research. VDT explicitly incorporates information processing and communication models from organization theory that allow qualitative predictions of organizational performance. The inputs to VDT are: a description of the design task and the subtasks that comprise it, including sequential dependencies between subtasks; a description of the actors in the design team and of their organizational structure; and a listing of the communication tools (e.g., facsimile, voice mail, electronic mail, meetings) available to each actor. The output of VDT is a prediction of the time required to complete each subtask (a surrogate for total labor cost of design), and the time to complete the entire design project along the longest or "critical" path through subtasks. VDT's behavior has been validated extensively for internal consistency. Its behavior also compares well with theoretical predictions about, and the observed behavior of, a 120-person team engaged in the design of a large petrochemical refinery. The simulation model can serve as a facility to formulate and test specific conjectures regarding the qualitative effect on project cost and duration of changes in the organization structure of the team, or in the communications tools available to participants. Engineering disciplines have long had mathematical models and, more recently, numerical computational models, to support analysis and optimization of physical systems. This work provides initial evidence that symbolic computer modeling can be used to express and test social science theories applied to real world organizations and the communication tools that they employ.
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