Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley

Thoughts on Black Swans, Perfect Storms, and other extreme risk metaphors: What Matters to Project Teams?

March 20, 2018

12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. ET

Building 23, Room 109/110


The research and development of systems considers risk, which manifests in many forms (technical, cost, schedule, safety, etc.). In design and operations, project teams rely on risk analysis techniques to make informed decisions under uncertainty and to manage to the best possible outcomes. The use of risk metaphors, such as black swans, perfect storms, etc., to communicate about catastrophic outlier events is becoming more prevalent, but are these concepts useful to engineering teams? Are current risk analysis techniques still relevant in light of extreme risks? This presentation will review characterizations of risk sources, including the focus on extreme events, and will examine more generally what project teams can and should do to mitigate and manage risks.


Dr. Tina Panontin is a Professor of Practice in the College of Engineering at SJSU. She uses her practical experience in the engineering, development, and management of complex systems to inform and advise students and support faculty through curriculum innovation, forums, networking opportunities, and research in systems engineering methods and tools. Prior to her move to academia, Dr. Panontin spent over 34 years at NASA, the latter 17 as the Chief Engineer of NASA Ames Research Center. In that role, she was the technical authority over all engineering work of the Center, providing independent assessments and targeted recommendations to assure the health and safety of its systems, projects, and organizations, and providing expert assistance for forecasting, preventing, and solving problems. For the broader Agency, Dr. Panontin was a key contributor to major space flight programs, flagship science programs, low cost lunar science missions, and complex technology developments. Also, she was the primary investigator for several major, high visibility failures, including Space Shuttle, science satellite, and ground facility mishaps. She received her BS in Mechanical Engineering from Santa Clara University. She holds a MS in Mechanics of Materials and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, both from Stanford University.