Engineering Ideas
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Engineering Ideas

Use ontologies as checklists

In Anatoly Levenchuk’s book Education for Educated (in Russian), I’ve encountered a very powerful idea that ontologies (or, less formally, lists of various things) should be used as checklists to prevent omissions in thinking about situations and systems.

This idea led me to realise that there are lots of lists that are not obvious and I think I should familiarise myself with, and use them from time to time.

Below are the ontologies that appear interesting to me. Before, I didn’t think about most of them explicitly.

If you know some other interesting categories/lists of things relevant to the section headings on this page, please share them in the comments!

Human activities

The list of human activities informs personal (actualisation) goals. It also informs sections on this very page and items in the lists on this page. Some activities are not represented, either because I know little or nothing about these activities, or because I’m not interested in them.

Each human activity in that list has its own roles (and practices), culture, and ethics. This informs balanced education.

Personal ethics, development, actualisation, education

Life and health

Engineering and management

  • Project alphas (system schema)
  • Sub-alphas, specific to each alpha, are taken from work cultures. Items in this list are organised as follows: “Alpha” — Examples of sub-alphas — the work culture from which these sub-alphas have been taken.
    — “Opportunity” — economics, innovations, strategy & strategic risks, sales & marketing, governance, etc. — entrepreneurship
    — “System description” — system views, architecture, use cases and requirements, etc. — engineering and/or architecture
    — “System” — integration/customisation, manufacturing/construction/deployment, support/maintenance/incident response, “run-time” quality engineering (see below), etc. — engineering and operations, or construction, or manufacturing (depending on the system)
    — “Work” — work items, plans, goal & priorities, procurement, logistics, finances, etc. — (operational) management
    — “Method of work” — work practices/roles, work processes & tools, etc. — enterprise engineering. Decisions: Alphas of project decisions, Elements of decision making
    — “Team” — people, culture & team building, DEI (diversity, equity, & inclusion), vacancies, compensation, feedback, promotion, & punishment processes, etc. — human resources
  • “Stakeholders”
    — Roles of stakeholders, their practices, and their interests, taken from economics & finance, engineering, entrepreneurship, law & governance, and other areas of human activities that are specific to the project and the engineered systems, or the system of interest.
  • “Opportunity”
    — Ethical goals (example: ESG goals), or some other ethical objects (such as Basic principles (The 7 Habits)) to guide the project’s mission and strategy
    — The areas of scientific, technological, and market development to track, specific to the project or the organisation. For example, for an energy utility company or project, these might be different energy sources (to track technological, market, or legislative development in them): coal, gas, solar, wind, tides, fission, fusion, etc. For an autonomous car project, these might be scientific and technological developments in ML/AI, computing hardware, perception/vision systems (cameras, lidars), actuators, etc.
  • “System description”
    Types of system views
    — Engineering or design principles, for example, Google AI principles
    — “Design-time” system qualities, specific to particular types of systems: for example, software qualities for software systems.
  • “System”
    — “Run-time” qualities, specific to particular types of systems: e. g. reliability, availability, security, privacy, access control, etc. for software systems. This list is different for other types of systems, e. g., for buildings (as systems) reliability and availability make little sense (as run-time qualities), but durability does (while making little sense for software systems). And I cannot even call out a single run-time qualities for systems such as bacteria (in bioengineering), but I’m sure they exist.
  • “Work”: no ideas for interesting lists that are useful here, apart from the sub-alphas mentioned above.
  • “Method of work”
    — Roles and practices that these roles perform, specific to particular work area: e. g., requirements engineer/product manager, (system, backend, frontend) engineer, DevOps, SRE, tester, on-call responder, support operator, engineering manager, operational manager in software engineering. This list of roles is completely different in finance/accounting, for instance.
  • “Team”
    — Workplace performance factors (example list, however such obvious factors as fresh air, level of noise, chair and screen quality, etc. are missing there)
    — Cultural features to track in organisations. Examples of such lists: Features of a great engineering culture, Dynamics of effective teams, Westrum organizational culture, The Reality Group.
    Moral foundations to tap into to build a cohesive team culture
    — Various lists of leadership principles (example: Amazon) or more general “work principles” (such as Ray Dalio’s Principles: Life and Work) to hone/promote among team members.
    — Intelligence stack to be considered in people development and education programs
    — Types of diversity to track (example)
  • Types of technology inform system design. Note that this is a very broad ontology, only a small subset will be relevant for designing a particular system. E. g., for designing an online service one use the list of cloud services (for example, AWS services), types of databases, and types of client devices (computer, phone, tablet, smart watch, etc.)

Human relationships and social life

Economics, accounting, and finance

Law and relationships with the government

  • Fields of law
  • Rights
    Universal human rights
    — Rights in the specific country, administrative region, community, etc.
  • Types of criminal and administrative offences, specific to the country

Negotiations, communication, and rhetoric

This post has been originally published on Substack.

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Writings about software, systems, reliability, and data engineering, software operations, peopleware, philosophy, etc. by Roman Leventov. Originally published at https://engineeringideas.substack.com/

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Roman Leventov

Roman Leventov

Writing about systems, technology, philosophy.

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