Critical Tools in the Systems Engineer’s Toolbox

Keywords Critical Tools in the Systems Engineer’s Toolbox

For an example of how this plays out: A bicycle company might be known for producing high‐quality, custom‐made racing bikes that last for decades. Customers pay a premium for the bikes and wait four months from order to delivery. Those characteristics arise from the process and methodology tools used by the company. But, say a customer asks the company to develop a special bicycle – one never built before – and wants a working model of the bike in three weeks. Since the model will eventually be disposed of, it does not need to be of high‐quality, or built to last – and it should not contain costly materials.
If the standard Process and Methodology tools are applied for this special request, the company cannot hope to meet the user’s schedule, nor to discover the unique characteristics of the user’s vision.

To help this project succeed, the systems engineer will select a subset of “standard” tools, modify and extend others, and, if required, build new
ones. Another tool of the systems engineer is the System Development Lifecycle, which aids in focusing available time and resources onto the most important aspects of a project. The System Development Lifecycle establishes the structure of the project work plan. It is the systems engineer’s ability to choose the best‐suited System Development Lifecycle tool to meet the program’s objectives – and in the bicycle example, one that creates and tests a disposable model, and then develops a final product under the specified program constraints.

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The power of a systems engineer is derived from their formal training, attitude toward conquering challenges, and leadership skills. That power is harnessed to the benefit of individual programs through the systems engineer’s ability to couple the right tool to the challenges of a project. These tools fall into categories of Processes, Methodologies, and System Development Lifecycles.

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