Engineering Decision Making and Risk Management: An interview with author Jeffrey W. Herrmann

Features

  • Author: Statistics Views
  • Date: 26 Jun 2015

Earlier this year, Wiley was proud to publish Engineering Decision Making and Risk Management by Jeffrey W. Herrmann, which emphasizes practical issues and examples of decision making with applications in engineering design and management

Featuring a blend of theoretical and analytical aspects, Engineering Decision Making and Risk Management presents multiple perspectives on decision making to better understand and improve risk management processes and decision-making systems.

Engineering Decision Making and Risk Management uniquely presents and discusses three perspectives on decision making: problem solving, the decision-making process, and decision-making systems. The author highlights formal techniques for group decision making and game theory and includes numerical examples to compare and contrast different quantitative techniques. The importance of initially selecting the most appropriate decision-making process is emphasized through practical examples and applications that illustrate a variety of useful processes. Presenting an approach for modeling and improving decision-making systems, Engineering Decision Making and Risk Management also features:

  • Theoretically sound and practical tools for decision making under uncertainty, multi-criteria decision making, group decision making, the value of information, and risk management
  • Practical examples from both historical and current events that illustrate both good and bad decision making and risk management processes
  • End-of-chapter exercises for readers to apply specific learning objectives and practice relevant skills
  • A supplementary website with instructional support material, including worked solutions to the exercises, lesson plans, in-class activities, slides, and spreadsheets

An excellent textbook for upper-undergraduate and graduate students, Engineering Decision Making and Risk Management is appropriate for courses on decision analysis, decision making, and risk management within the fields of engineering design, operations research, business and management science, and industrial and systems engineering. The book is also an ideal reference for academics and practitioners in business and management science, operations research, engineering design, systems engineering, applied mathematics, and statistics.

Statistics Views talks to author Jeffrey W. Herrmann about the book in detail.

thumbnail image: Engineering Decision Making and Risk Management: An interview with author Jeffrey W. Herrmann

1. Congratulations on the publication of Engineering Decision Making and Risk Management, which emphasizes practical issues and examples of decision making with applications in engineering design and management. How did the book come about? How did the writing process begin?

It began with studying how engineers made decisions. While my colleagues and I were conducting a research project on engineering design organizations, we realized that traditional descriptions of engineering decision making did not describe what we were seeing. We then developed a new course in which we shared our observations with our students. As  the existing textbooks were inadequate, I created completely new course notes and shared those with my students. I later revised and reorganized them when I added topics related to risk management to the course. After a few years, I realized that there was a need for a new textbook on this topic.

2. What were the main objectives that you had in mind when writing the book?

To help others learn important concepts and skills that can help them improve decision making. To do that, I wanted to present three key perspectives on engineering decision making - to include a variety of examples; to provide links to useful books and sources that readers can study to get more information on decision making and risk management; and to provide material to help an instructor teach a course on this topic.

3. Who should read the book and why?

Persons who want to improve how they and their organization make decisions and manage risk. The book covers useful techniques and approaches for a variety of situations, and there is a framework that provides context to find the right approach. In addition, each chapter clearly states what one will learn. As a textbook, it is aimed at upper-level undergraduates and graduate students in engineering. Engineers design products and systems, and this requires making crucial decisions and managing risk.

4. Why do you think the book is of interest now?

Engineers and others increasingly recognize that professional skills such as decision making and risk management are valuable yet timeless. They are important at every stage in one’s career. Moreover, because poor decision making can lead to terrible accidents or financial ruin, organizations need effective decision-making systems and want their staff to use appropriate decision-making processes.

5. The book presents and discusses three perspectives on decision making: problem solving, the decision-making process, and decision-making systems. Was it always your intention to have this structure to the book?

Yes. Decision making is an enormous topic, and this structure provides a way to organize the material in a useful way. Different perspectives provide different ways to improve decision making.

...the decision-maker can use statistics about a population or process to estimate the likelihood of those uncertain events, which can help them make a good decision that is consistent with their preferences and attitudes about risk. The book discusses techniques for doing this.

6. When and how does statistics play a role in engineering decision making and risk management?

Risk is an unavoidable part of many decisions; we just don’t know what is going to happen, and there is a chance that something “bad” will happen. A good decision-maker will consider those possibilities. Then, the decision-maker can use statistics about a population or process to estimate the likelihood of those uncertain events, which can help them make a good decision that is consistent with their preferences and attitudes about risk. The book discusses techniques for doing this.

7. What was it that inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?

I very much enjoyed mathematics in school, and I wanted to apply mathematics to help people solve problems. This led me to study operations research and industrial engineering. I have been fortunate to have opportunities to study and teach in this area.

8. You are Associate Professor at the University of Maryland, where you a joint appointment with the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Institute for Systems Research. What do you think are the current challenges in teaching engineering and what would you say to a student considering studying the discipline?

The institutional challenge is to find efficient ways to define and assess what our students are learning; what are they able to do? In the curriculum, first-year design courses (especially those with robots) have linked important mathematical and engineering science skills to the system design settings where those skills are valuable. The next step is to improve the way in which they design; that, naturally, requires improving their decision-making processes.

I would tell an engineering student to do two things: (1) find a specific topic that is interesting and become an expert in it and (2) take advantage of opportunities to develop and practice their process improvement and system design skills, because these are always valuable in successful organizations.

9. What is your current research focussing on? What are your main objectives and what do you hope to achieve through the results?

We are studying how teams of engineers attack complex system design problems and identifying which decision-making strategies yield the best designs. We are also developing mathematical models of design processes that can be used to predict the performance of a design process. These results will help organizations who want to improve their design decision-making processes.

10. Are there people that have been influential in your career?

When I was a graduate student at the University of Florida, Chung-Yee Lee was my advisor; he taught me a great deal about being a scholar. At the University of Maryland, my colleague Linda Schmidt has taught me a great deal about engineering design and about being an effective teacher and advisor.

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