Systems Engineering Differs From Other Engineering Disciplines

Three Ways Systems Engineering Differs From Other Engineering Disciplines
Systems engineering shares many common traits with other forms of engineering such as attention to detail, modeling of physical phenomena, and predicting performance. In this post, we will explore how systems engineering is different and unique when compared to other engineering disciplines. As we will see, systems engineering is different from other engineering disciples in several ways.

First, systems engineering is concerned with the big picture. Rather than being concerned with the details down to the part level, systems engineering is concerned with the system, subsystem, and components. The systems engineer is only concerned at the part level if there is a problem, unacceptable risk, or other reason that attracts concern.

Second, the systems engineer wants to keep his options open and consider all alternatives prior to making a decision. Contrast this with most other engineering disciplines push to a point decision as quickly as possible.

Third, it is important to realize that, “Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems [1].” This is in contrast to traditional engineering disciplines which are more narrowly focused. These are a few of the various ways that systems engineering is different than traditional engineering.

Systems Engineer Roles
Another way to consider the differences between system engineering and traditional engineering is to look at the various roles that the system engineer has and notice how they differ from traditional engineering. Fortunately, Sarah A. Sheard outlined twelve roles that systems engineering must fill [2]. Those twelve roles are:

1. Requirements Owner
2. System Designer
3. System Analyst
4. Validation/Verification Engineer
5. Logistics/Operations Engineer
6. Glue Among Subsystems
7. Customer Interface
8. Technical Manager
9. Information Manager
10. Process Engineer
11. Coordinator
12. Classified Ads SE (catch all for “other” roles or expectations of a SE)

These twelve roles illustrate the difference between systems engineering and traditional engineering since the traditional engineering disciplines don’t encompass the twelve items.

[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] S. A. Sheard, “Twelve Systems Engineering Roles,” Proceedings, Sixth Annual International Symposium of the International Council on Systems Engineering, Boston, MA: July 1996.

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