Preventing and Mitigating the Consequences of Complex Systems Failure

Client: American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Oil rig Complex systems failure initiative process Initiative structure graphic Timelines for initiatives to address complex systems failure Complex systems failure report cover

Project Overview

We helped the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) convene its engineering expertise to identify critical industry priorities that can reduce the probability and consequences of complex systems failures.

Need

Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, ASME—the world’s leading professional society for the engineers that design and build many complex systems—established an initiative to make tangible contributions to the ability for engineers to prevent complex systems failures.

Our Solution

We collaborated with experts from the engineering community and ASME staff to help ASME better understand the root causes of complex systems failures. Over the course of three workshops, we facilitated these experts in identifying ways to mitigate consequences of catastrophic failures and to prevent them entirely. At the first meeting, an expert task force explored their experiences in complex systems management. Participants identified potential areas for ASME action, including standards and tools development, educational and public awareness initiatives, and organizational and ethical issues. We then facilitated a meeting with ASME’s Industrial Advisory Board to build on these results and determine specific initiatives and detailed action plans for ASME in the next year and beyond. In the final planning phase, we facilitated another task force meeting to determine pathways for ASME to implement the action plans from the second meeting. We analyzed results from these three meetings to summarize the recommendations and develop a strategic plan that ASME and its partners can use to advance the prevention of complex systems failure and mitigate their consequences.

Impact

ASME and the broader engineering community are applying the lessons learned to better plan for complex systems failures. ASME is also planning to implement select recommendations contained in the report.