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Re: [ontolog-forum] to concept or not to concept, is this a question?

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Kathryn Blackmond Laskey <klaskey@xxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 15 Jun 2007 08:51:06 -0400
Message-id: <p06110410c29834b5992e@[]>
I teach Systems Engineering. A very important part of the systems 
engineering process is to develop an Operational Concept  (also 
called Opcon or Conops or Operational Concept). It is a maxim in 
Systems Engineering that if you don't get the conops right, the 
system development effort is doomed to (often very expensive) failure.    (01)

A Concept of Operations specifies at a high level what the system is 
supposed to do. In my class I teach that an opcon should include a 
vision statement, measurable mission objectives, and operational 
scenarios (aka use cases).  (I don't think there's an industry 
standard for what goes into a conops, but I think most systems 
engineers would say those elements are important.)  It is essential 
for all stakeholders to agree on the conops upfront, before the 
design effort commences.  It may need to be revisited and modified 
based on realities of design (i.e., certain parts of the conops may 
turn out to be technically infeasible or too expensive).  But the 
entire design effort is informed by and based on the conops, and the 
system is ultimately evaluated on how well it meets the mission 
objectives specified in the conops.    (02)

Note the following:
  (1) The conops is described using artifacts -- usually informal text 
documents and charts, but also sometimes semi-formal diagrams.
  (2) These artifacts are intended to develop and document a shared 
understanding among the stakeholders -- designers, implementers, 
users, funders, etc. about what the system is supposed to do.
  (3) People will call such a document the "Conops for System X," 
although the document is, of course, a document and not a concept. 
They might say it's a conops document, and of course they are well 
aware that the document is not the conops.
  (4) The point of an operational concept is to design an actual 
system that does what the operational concept says it will.    (03)

Systems engineers are usually very down-to-earth people who don't 
have much concern about the ethereal philosophy of concepts.  In 
their down-to-earth pragmatism, they have learned that it's a darned 
good idea to get everyone to agree on the basic concept before 
plunging into detailed design.    (04)

So we have the system, the conops, and the conops document.  The 
conops is more than just the document.  A lot of the important stuff 
is in the shared understanding of the people who developed it -- as 
anyone who joined an engineering team after the conops was developed 
will attest.  Which of course means everyone's conops is somewhat 
different from everyone else's, which can cause problems if the team 
is managed poorly and the differences never get articulated and 
addressed.  The system itself, of course, grows from the conops.    (05)

Kathy    (06)

At 5:06 PM -0700 6/14/07, Doug Holmes wrote:
>Well, yes; I have heard questions like "what operations/system/
>artistic/etc. concept do you have in mind?" in situations in which I 
>did not introduce or use the word "concept".  Usually, in those 
>situations there are productive ways to answer the question and 
>advance the conversation.
>On Jun 14, 2007, at 2:39 PM, Waclaw Kusnierczyk wrote:
>>  Doug Holmes wrote:
>>>  On Jun 14, 2007, at 1:02 PM, Waclaw Kusnierczyk wrote:
>>>>  Ingvar Johansson wrote:
>>>>>  When we simply speak about the world and are
>>>>>  immediately understood, we need not mention either meanings or
>>>>>  concepts.
>>>>>  But if communication breaks down, questions such as 'what do you
>>>>>  mean?'
>>>>>  and 'what concept do you have in mind?' comes naturally.
>>>>  Honestly?  Have you ever heard a question like 'what concept do you
>>>>  have
>>>>  in mind?' in a situation other than after your using the word
>>>>  'concept'?
>>>  Frequently, and in some cases, the term is quite technical["jargon"];
>>>  in others, it is a handy generalization.  Military persons, for
>>>  example, speak of an "operations concept" that is a fairly
>>>  significant portion of a military plan has specific parts; plays a
>  >> particular role; is distinct from other operations concepts and is
>>>  expected to - and often does - create some pretty concrete effects.
>>>  Engineering persons speak of system concepts to describe a
>>>  significant portion of system requirements and use it to - eventually
>>>  - build reliable artifacts. Down the road from, in Hollywood, people
>>>  buy and sell concepts.  Etc., etc.  If one were to create an ontology
>>>  for any of these domains, those people would almost certainly think
>>>  some important things were missing...
>>  All fine;  but you haven't addressed the question...
>>  vQ
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