The Systems Engineer: Unsung Hero of Product & Systems Development?
AndyGurd 270001QKDH Visits (10230)
Complex products & systems like cars, defense systems, medical devices and power plants can have many different types of components requiring many different engineering disciplines including mechanical, elec
The answer is the Systems Engineer, or more broadly the discipline and skill set of Systems Engineering (see image to the right for a list of skills and tasks). In some industry sectors, like aerospace & defense, the role of the systems engineer is well recognized. In other industries the set of skills and activities required may not be labeled ‘systems engineer’ and you might not find a ‘systems engineering’ team. However the need for a ‘systems engineering approach’ to product development is becoming increasingly recognized as complexity in inter-disciplinary engineering grows. A systems engineering approach means applying a system wide perspective (‘systems thinking’) and multi-disciplinary technical knowledge to tackle holistic product / system activities and issues.
So all product or systems development organizations are investing in systems engineering and the systems engineers are among the most valued members of the product development team? Well not quite. From attending conferences of INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering) and reading articles, it’s very clear that even in industries and organizations where systems engineering is a long standing discipline, sometimes it still suffers from being seen as almost a ‘luxury exercise’ or “oh the systems engineers, yeah that’s those guys in the corner who produce lots of documents”. It’s seen as an overhead activity and cost because it’s time spent on upfront analysis rather than getting down to the ‘real’ engineering activities. And while the costs of systems engineering are obvious, the longer term downstream benefits of reduced rework, risk avoidance, and quite simply, better products, are not easily quantified.
How do you build a business case for investment in a systems engineering approach to product development, and recognize the value that systems engineers bring? The SEI (Software Engineering Institute) at Carnegie Mellon University, IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society (AESS) and NDIA (National Defense Industrial Association) joined forces in 2012 to conduct a study of their members to determine the quantifiable impact of systems engineering principles and practices on program (product & systems development) performance. In summary the study (based on 148 responses) found a very strong relationship between the level of ‘systems engineering capability’ and the performance level of the program. And while there was a very strong relationship between the most challenging programs (how complex & risky the product / system development is) and the impact of higher levels of systems engineering capability, they also found that higher levels of systems engineering capability had a strong relationship to performance even on less challenging programs.
So if you’re a systems engineer or manager of a systems engineering team, take heart from this study and use it to promote the value of your role and your team within your product or systems development organization. Or if you’re a product or systems development executive, ask the question of yourself and your organization, are we putting enough value on the role / skill set of the systems engineer and are we applying enough investment and focus on taking a systems engineering approach to product development in order to reduce costs, manage risks, improve efficiency and deliver products that meet customer / market needs?
Systems Engineering resources