Level of modularity and different levels of system granularity

Noemi Chiriac, Katja Hölttä-Otto*, Dusan Lysy, Eun Suk Suh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

71 Citations (Scopus)


All complex system development projects involve analysis of the system architecture. Thus far it has been assumed that there is some correct system decomposition that can be used in the architectural analysis without consideration of the sensitivity of the results to the chosen level of decomposition. We represent 88 idealized system architectures and a real complex system as a design structure matrix at two different levels of decomposition. We analyze these architectures for their degree of modularity. We find that the degree of modularity can vary for the same system when the system is represented at the two different levels of granularity. For example, the printing system used in the case study is considered slightly integral at a higher level of decomposition and quite modular at a lower level of decomposition. We further find that even though the overall results can be different depending on the level of decomposition, the direction of change toward more modular or more integral can be calculated the same regardless of the level of decomposition. We conclude that the level of decomposition can distort the results of architectural analysis and care must be taken in defining the system decomposition for any analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101007
JournalJournal of Mechanical Design
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2011
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • decomposition
  • modularity
  • system architecture

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