Some really useful principles: A new look at the scope and boundaries of systems engineering

Keywords Some really useful principles: A new look at the scope and boundaries of systems engineering
Standards groups

The best systems engineering solution for an organisation or project will be effective, efficient and adaptable. Effective systems engineering produces efficient and attractive solutions to operational needs, and be able to adapt
to changing operational needs and stakeholder expectations. Efficient systems engineering maximises the value added and minimise the waste in the system creation process. We will later discuss the critical contribution of “decision flow” to systems engineering efficiency. Adaptable systems engineering produces effective solutions to a wider range of problems in a range of domains and scales of system complexity. It would be nice to offer a “recipe” that will always work for deploying systems engineering. Unfortunately it seems that while all business problems have common elements, these common elements combine in so many ways that the solution has to be bespoke.

The important thing for an organisation adopting systems engineering is to identify its success criteria and objectives, and to manage each stage of systems engineering deployment both to produce an immediate benefit in terms of the success criteria and lay the foundations for the next step. There is a great deal of guidance in the literature on how to do this using the known “process building blocks” documented in standards and case studies. The diversity of the literature confirms the need for a tailored approach to each case and the lack of a “unified theory of everything” for systems engineering.

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In the search for a description of systems engineering that is precise and suitable for use outside the traditional defence/aerospace domains, this paper examines three emerging or “rediscovered” systems engineering concepts. These are the “generic reference model”, the “system value cycle”, and the notion of systems engineering as the management of emergent properties. They are shown to be useful in tackling some “classic problems” in systems engineering for which the standard definitions give little guidance. The problems include agreeing on the system boundary, understanding what is a “good” system, making the business case for systems engineering, and applying
systems engineering outside the requirements driven context common in the defence industry. The place for innovation in the engineering of successful systems is illustrated with reference to successful and well-documented World War 2 era platform systems. The paper seeks to identify definitions and principles that clearly distinguish “systems engineering” from other disciplines and are robust enough to be useable and relevant in both academia and industry, and to enhance the business case for systems engineering.

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