Optimizing Design Teams Based on Problem Properties: Computational Team Simulations and an Applied Empirical Test

McComb, C. , Cagan, J. , and Kotovsky, K.

2017, Journal of Mechanical Design, vol. 139(4), pp. 1-12

The performance of a team with the right characteristics can exceed the mere sum of the constituent members’ individual efforts. However, a team having the wrong characteristics may perform more poorly than the sum of its individuals. Therefore, it is vital that teams are assembled and managed properly in order to maximize performance. This work examines how the properties of configuration design problems can be leveraged to select the best values for team characteristics (specifically team size and interaction frequency). A computational model of design teams which has been shown to effectively emulate human team behavior is employed to pinpoint optimized team characteristics for solving a variety of configuration design problems. These configuration design problems are characterized with respect to the local and global structure of the design space, the alignment between objectives, and the resources allotted for solving the problem. Regression analysis is then used to create equations for predicting optimized values for team characteristics based on problem properties. These equations achieve moderate to high accuracy, making it possible to design teams based on those problem properties. Further analysis reveals hypotheses about how the problem properties can influence a team’s search for solutions. This work also conducts a cognitive study on a different problem to test the predictive equations. For a configuration problem of moderate size, the model predicts that zero interaction between team members should lead to the best outcome. A cognitive study of human teams verifies this surprising prediction, offering partial validation of the predictive theory.