What is Systems Engineering?

What is the function and focus of systems engineering?
The function of systems engineering is to guide the engineering of complex systems. It is focused on a system as a whole and requires both quantitative as well as qualitative judgments. It is interdisciplinary and bridges the traditional engineering disciplines.

How is systems engineering defined?
The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) has developed a definition of Systems Engineering that includes several elements:

1) Interdisciplinary: “Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems … Systems engineering integrates all disciplines and specialty groups … both business and technical needs [1].” In other words, the systems engineer must bring together many different areas of expertise.
2) Customer Focused: “It focuses on defining customer needs and required functionality early in the development cycle [2].” This means customer communication is important throughout the process. This is important as things change so that the customer can understand why changes occur. Otherwise, it is possible to lose the customer commitment to the system.
3) Broad Scope: System engineering considers “the complete problem; operations, cost and schedule, performance, training and support, test, manufacturing, and disposal [3].” The systems engineering activity must take the long view and consider all aspects not just a single part of the system life cycle. This includes socio-technical issues and wholeness.
4) An Iterative Process: “Systems engineering is an iterative process of top-down synthesis, development, and operation [4].” The process continues and works toward an optimal solution that takes into account the full range of customer needs for the system.

What is the Vee model?
Systems engineering incorporates the elements in the systems engineering vee model shown in Figure 2. The figure is a model of how system engineering operates. It is a tool that the systems engineer can use in ensuring each step in the process is taken into account.

Figure 2. System Engineering Vee Model [5].

What qualities should the systems engineer possess?
Moreover, the systems engineer should have some unique qualities. First, he must enjoy learning new things and solving problems. Second, he must balance keeping an open mind to new ideas and remaining skeptical of unproven assertions. Third, he must like a new challenge but have a solid background in science and engineering. Fourth, he must be able to have the respect of his co-workers by a solid background of technical achievement in a specialty area. Fifth, he must pick up new ideas and information quickly. Sixth, he must be a good communicator with interpersonal skills. The best systems engineers will have these attributes.

[1] INCOSE , Systems Engineering Handbook: A guide for system life cycle processing and activities, 4th Edition (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2015), p. 11.
[2] INCOSE, Systems Engineering Handbook, p. 11.
[3] INCOSE, Systems Engineering Handbook, p. 11.
[4] INCOSE, Systems Engineering Handbook, p. 11.
[5] A. Kossiakoff, W.N. Sweet, S.J. Seymour, S.M. Biemer, Systems Engineering Principles and Practice (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), p. 36.

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