Integrated Capstone Course

a total quality management offering


Special Topics - Aerospace Industry

A Total Quality Management Offering

Elvin Isgrig, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota*


The development of the “Integrated Capstone Course,” a Total Quality offering at North Dakota State University (NDSU), as discussed below paralleled programs at Defense Systems Management College (DSMC), National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), and the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT). Much of the impetus for this curriculum, a “Systems Engineering and Program Management Option” in an Industrial Engineering and Management course of study, came through the developer's experiences and learning from DSMC, NASA, AFIT, Education-With-Industry with The Boeing Company and practice in the U.S. Air Force. The description is offered, in part, as an answer to Mr. Boileau's challenge, to address education for the practices described in the “Showcase” article, and to offer it as information to other campuses that maybe interested in progressing along a similar evolutionary path toward a total quality curriculum.

This Integrated Capstone Course at NDSU is required for graduation in an accredited curriculum by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET). It is also required for graduation in the Master's In Business Administration (MBA) curriculum according to American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). The course is collaboratively taught by members of the Colleges of Engineering and Business. The feedback from employers and graduates has been very positive.


This course brings together the lessons of “Systems Engineering” and “Program/Project Management.” A program of interdependent projects is undertaken to develop a product and conceive/plan an industrial facility for manufacturing and servicing. Together the students:

  • Perform analysis of the market and needs;
  • Develop those inputs to system requirements;
  • Accomplish conceptual and preliminary designs; and
  • Think through systems development, construction, installation and initiation of operations

The focus of the course is to prepare comprehensive business, technical, operational and project plans. These activities provide “hands-on” experience in designing systems and managing such projects. The students are charged with contributing and integrating the breadth of their knowledge, skills and efforts.

Total quality management is used as a means to develop thinking, decision making and partnering. A team of engineering and business instructors facilitate. Graduate students, who previously have been through such integrated learning experiences, serve as mentors and teaching assistants. Additionally, the participating students have been urged to call upon other faculty and practicing professionals, whose expertise they respect, to augment their own understanding and information base. Practicing professionals and senior academicians are invited to serve on an Executive Council at the end of the term to receive and question the student's final report and formal presentations.

The goals of this course are to:

  • Enhance the ability to recognize, identify, define, analyze and act upon the tasks, work and problems inherent in systems engineering and program/project management.
  • Increase understanding of the roles, activities and relationships of groups that participate in, and affect, engineering and project endeavor.
  • Gain a working knowledge of the concepts, principles and integration of functional, project and matrix tasks.
  • Practice skills in the acquisition and management of resources (people, money, information, time, equipment and facilities).
  • Intensify the appreciation for the proficiency in handling environmental factors (economic, political, risk, uncertainty, change, …) which influence and constrain efforts and activities.
  • Enhance ability to deal cooperatively with others with emphasis on collaborative efforts, teaming, partnering, negotiations, conflict resolution and growth.
  • Empower with written and oral communications skills essential to planning, organizing, creating, proving, influencing, controlling, integrating, and reporting.


Formal class operations begin with assignment to organizational departments and project teams based upon letters of application and resumes. Three general categories of job positions are defined in advance and applicants are assigned to those positions based upon preferences expressed, educational preparation, and previous work experience. Team building exercises are conducted in both dimensions of the matrix organization.

The matrix organization created has a two-dimensional structure where traditional functional departments are the vertical component and projects represent the horizontal component. In the functional, or vertical departments, technical, business and operational disciplines are emphasized. In the project, or horizontal dimension, emphasis is placed on integrating those disciplines. The matrix method, which is considered highly effective in high learning-curve environments, tends to move the decision making process to the team members instead of retaining that authority in the overhead structure. Both dimensions of the matrix will involve a blending of: (1) technical knowledge, (2) business practices, (3) interpersonal operational skills and (4) integrative perspectives. Experience and learning will be gained in working with the specialists typically found on the interface between departments, projects, suppliers, regulators and clients.


The responsibilities each student has, in both dimensions of the matrix organization, will soon absorb them in a dynamic, interdisciplinary environment illustrative of situations common in industry. They have roles as: (1) a member of an engineering functional specialty department, (2) a member of a functional management department, and (3) a member of an interdisciplinary project team. By working together in those positions, a “matrix” of capabilities is developed to perform a series of job-like activities within the typical stages of the life cycle of a project:

  • Analyze needs and market; make inputs to requirements and specifications for conceptual and preliminary designs; and plan for construction, installation/checkout and initiation of operations.
  • Design products and processes, select and layout equipment in ways that simplify work, minimize materials handling, and protect people, property and the natural environment.
  • Conceive an employee acquisition, orientation and training program in concert with the philosophy of Total Quality Management.
  • Prepare implementation plans for a manufacturing facility that optimizes product quality, cost effectiveness and market competitiveness. A family of processes and layouts are created. The resources are estimated (budget, schedule and people) and plans are prepared and presented.
  • Communicate freely and concisely among departmental and project team members, client representatives and interfacing sources of information.
  • Enter data and information and contribute to master files of sources for people, materials, machines, information, etc. Descriptive information, cost estimates and availability are obtained through personal research on marketing, product and process development.
  • Contribute narrative and quantitative inputs to draft and final report(s) for recommended approaches, resources and courses of action.
  • Make formal oral presentations of departmental and prroject reports in an executive setting. Those presentations are made using visual aids. Students describe their class jobs and departmental/project mission and the results they have achieved. A few members of the class are selected to make the final presentations to the executive council at an off-site conference location. The other students assume editorial and logistical support duties for the course wrap-up efforts. Students, contributing faculty and mentors are encouraged to invite guests for the final presentations and join in a social period and dinner which follow.


The individual responsibilities discussed above are done in a manner to facilitate project and program efforts. An additional dimension of integration perspective is involved because the projects are interdependent. Coordinated group and team efforts define and propose a balanced program of business, technical, operational and project efforts. Work structures, and time and cost estimates are consolidated into formal plans that include budgets and schedules. The character of some of the various inputs will be noticeably different:

  • in technical development context for the product and its production,
  • in business context for marketing, budgeting and contracting/purchasing,
  • in operational/support context for those who will run the facility, and
  • in time context for phased action and resource plans to move from the preliminary thinking to mature proposals to the client.

The systems engineering staff in the Industrial Facility Design Course (IE&M 481) are responsible for technical needs analysis based upon the marketing inputs. Configurations are developed and submitted to design reviews to establish baselines for planning and control.

The business staff in the Program/Project Management Course (IE&M 490) have primary responsibility for market surveys, consolidated financial and budget planning and conceiving approaches for purchasing and contracting. While the determination of quantities of equipment, materials and people are the responsibility of the technical and operational departments, business guides the methodology for cost estimating, design-to-cost, value engineering, and consolidation of the overall business plans, approaches, budgets and schedules.

The operations staff in IF&M 490 are responsible for drawing upon the general operations knowledge base and doing the scheduling and sequencing of activities within the class and for the plans that are developed. The Configuration Management function is developed and administered in support of designated projects. The operations staff coordinates style, format and content standards, and the acquisition of printing and visual aid preparations. They also arrange for training for the information system(s) to be used by the class with reference to the final report from the Integrated Industrial Information Course (IE&M 493).

The project staff in IE&M 490, with the assistance of the functional specialists, integrate planning and the activities that contribute to the projects. They sort efforts by project life cycle and what the primary focus is for each of those stages of effort (conception, creation, confirmation, facilitization, production, operation and support, modernization and phase-out). They exercise lead roles for these plans, contributing activities, documents and presentations.


Each department and each student has broad responsibilities for further defining class activities within the above guidelines. A large percentage of the class responsibilities intersect those of other departments, projects, people. “Linking pins” and a “coordination core” are designated by dotted ellipses on the organizaton chart. The initial definition of individual and shared responsibilities is crucial. Those evolving understandings among class members will need to be revisited often to confirm validity. Most of the understandings evolve and change as work is done.

Operations are very dynamic. Everyone's input and questions are valuable and need to be dealt within a helpful, inclusive manner. At the same time the occasional “personal solution” bias may need to be dealt with. That would be especially true if a solution by a single class member, or a subset of class participants, appears to exclude the thinking or input of others.

The classroom facilities are: (1) an Auditorium for the recitation period, (2) the engineering and design Laboratory and (3) management laboratory periods, and (4) laboratory access for out-of-class meetings of functional departments and project teams. “Displayed thinking” boards in the management laboratory and portable “information exchange” boards help the participants keep up to date.

The primary information systems available are the PC machines in the management laboratory. MicroSoft Word is used to develop narrative documents and build the integrated final reports documents. CADKEY or AUTOCAD are used for plant layouts and graphic design. MicroSoft Project is used for scheduling, critical path and PERT determinations. AI0 (a structured analysis tool from knowledge based systems is available to model the client's organization, the project and the product systems) is available to model the client's organizations. Lotus Freelance is used for graphics for overhead project visual aids for the departmental and initial project presentations while 35mm colored slides are used for the final presentation. The disks of those slides are converted to film in a Faculty Resource Center. That film is then processed by commercial developers.

An electronic messaging system is used in conjunction with the campus networks (CMS, UNIX and TELNET). IBM AS/400 available from the University Partners Program is used for messaging among class members, faculty and facilitators. Shared folders and data bases are available in the AS/400 as a file server for each department and project.

Collaboration is the keyword for life in this integrated, interdisciplinary course. If that should appear to become impossible, the facilitators or the professor must be brought into the decision process. The business and engineering facilitators and the teaching assistants (IE&M 593) are available to guide and answer questions. They have been asked to not do the tasks for the students in the integrated capstone but to be available for brainstorming, sources of information, sharing precedences, answering questions and reacting to suggestions and alternatives.


The above approach to formal education provides students with highly dynamic experiences for working in the environments such as those discussed in some of the preceding articles in this issue.


1. Tompkins, James. 1989. Winning Manufacturing. Norcross, GA: Institute of Industrial Engineers.

2. Obrandovitch, M.M. and Stephanou, S.E. 1990. PM Risks and Productivity. Bend, OR:Daniel Spencer Publishers.

3. Harrison, F.L. 1985. Advanced Project Management. Hants, England: Gower Publishers.

4. Cleland, David and King, William. 1983. Project Management Handbook. New York, NY: Nostrand Reinhold.

5. Blanchard, Benjamin and Welter, Fabrycky. 1990. Systems Engineering and Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

6. Blanchard, Benjamin. 1992. Logistics Engineering and Management. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.


Elvin D. Isgrig has spent over three decades in practice and education for program and project management. Currently he teaches those topics and systems engineering at North Dakota State University while also serving as Director of Educational Services for the Project Management Institute. Elvin has practiced program and project management in the United States Air Force for over 20 years.

He holds degrees in mechanical engineering (B.S.) and industrial engineering and management (M.S.) from North Dakota State University and studied aeronautical engineering at the graduate level at the Air Force Institute of Technology. In addition to PMI, he is a member of the Institute of Industrial Engineering, Society of Logistics Engineers, National Contract Management Association.

* By North Dakota State University, Department of Industrial Engineering & Management with the participation of the College of Business.



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