The Importance Of Considering Alternative Concepts

Even if the systems engineer has a feasible and attractive concept for achieving a set of requirements, it is important that alternatives are carefully considered before selecting the solution for development. This is true for at least six reasons.

First, a systems engineer should have a “Plan B” for every system. Even if an attractive option exists, the system engineer must consider alternatives to the point of knowing that they are possible solutions. This will allow the program to later pivot quickly to Plan B, if needed.

Second, as the system develops, new information may make the once attractive option less attractive. In other words, as the system develops, the customer may change their mind on requirements. If the systems engineer did not investigate alternatives, then the system development may have to come to a complete stop if the customer changes requirements and alternatives cannot be readily offered.

Third, the assessment that the current solution is feasible and attractive may be wrong. There may be a more attractive alternative and unless an investigation is done, it will not be known. It is important for the systems engineer to confirm that an attractive and feasible solution is indeed the right solution.

Fourth, competitive analysis is important and considering alternatives can lead to a better understanding of the offerings by competitors. This is because it is often the case that an investigation of alternatives leads automatically to the analysis of published or strategic knowledge of competing systems. This can help ensure that the system is indeed the correct solution. It may be that that the program will be cancelled because the customer found out that a better system is available. This occurred with a Boeing missile program.

Fifth, the possibility of increased technical content. An investigation of alternatives can uncover a solution that may have increased technical content to provide capabilities that are attractive to the customer.

Sixth, investigating alternatives provides options for risk reduction. If alternatives are considered, then as concept development on the primary solution progresses, the program manager may recognize an opportunity to risk reduce the program by performing small tests or prototypes that can be put “in his hip pocket” just in case there is a need to pivot to a Plan B. If the systems engineer had not investigated alternatives, then he will not likely recognize these types of opportunities, if they present themselves.

Wraping It Up
For these reasons, it is important for the systems engineer to consider alternatives even if an attractive and feasible solution exists.

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