What Is Systems Engineering?

Many of us already practice systems engineering, but call it something else: design or development of product, process, and service. Systems Engineering enables practicing engineers to integrate their specialties in the development of complex products and processes. It focuses on customers' needs throughout the product life cycle of design, testing, manufacturing, operation, and future product planning. Systems Engineering enhances time, cost, and performance by enabling the engineer to function in an interdisciplinary team and by providing quantitative methods for business and technical decision making.

Systems Engineering is an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems. It focuses on defining customer needs and required functionality early in the development cycle, documenting requirements, then proceeding with design synthesis and system validation while considering the complete problem: Operations --Performance -- Test-- Manufacturing -- Cost & Schedule--Training & Support--Disposal. Systems Engineering integrates all the disciplines and specialty groups into a team effort forming a structured development process that proceeds from concept to production to operation. Systems Engineering considers both the business and technical needs of all stakeholders with the goal of providing a quality product that meet the users needs. -- International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE)

The Power Point presentation given by Dr. Brian Mar, one of the founders of INCOSE and a Systems Engineering Fellow:
Generic Model of Systems Engineering (FRAT)
What is Systems Engineering?

A logical sequence of activities and decisions transforming an operational need into a description of system performance parameters and a preferred system configuration.
--MIL-STD-499A Engineering Management 1 May 1974

A comprehensive, iterative problem solving process that is used to:

  • transform validated customer needs and requirements into a life-cycle balanced solution set of system product and process designs,

  • generate information for decision makers, and

  • provision phase. The problem and success criteria are defined through requirements analysis, function analysis / allocation, and systems analysis and control. Alternative solutions, evaluation of those alternatives, selection of the best life-cycle balanced solution, and the description of the solution through the design package are accomplished through synthesis and systems analysis and control.
    --MIL-STD-499B Systems Engineering [Draft] 6 May 92

An interdisciplinary collaborative approach to derive, evolve, and verify a life-cycle balanced system solution which satisfies customer expectations and meets public acceptability. The Systems Engineering Process provides a focused approach for product development which attempts to balance all factors associated with product life-cycle viability and competitiveness in a global marketplace. This process provides a structured approach for considering alternative design and configurations. The systems engineering process is applied recursively one level of development at a time. Initially, it is applied to identify the best concept, or approach, to satisfy the market opportunity. This could be a concept for a totally new product / system of a concept for making an incremental improvement to an already established product. The second application of the process adds value to the concept by fully describing the products / system definition and establishing a configuration baseline. This application provides the basis for accomplishing the more detailed engineering development of subsystems, components, and elements of a total system; or the appropriated parts of an established product undergoing incremental improvement during the next application.
--IEEE P1220 Standard for Application and Management of the Systems Engineering Process [Final Draft] 26 September 1994

Jack Ring, Systems Engineering Fellow and avowed Systemist,suggests three views with Three Kinds of Systems Engineering

For an in-depth discussion of systems engineering, check out What Is Systems Engineering? A Consensus of Senior Systems Engineers by Terry Bahill, a professor of Systems and Industrial Engineering at University of Arizona and Systems Engineering Fellow.

Dorothy Mc Kinney is chief software architect for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, a Systems Engineering Fellow, and lead instructor for PSU's Requirements Engineering course, SYSE 573. She recommends the following INCOSE web resources for students taking her systems engineering class:
INCOSE definition of systems engineering
The Systems Engineering primer co-developed by INCOSE and AIAA
Pragmatic Principles of Systems Engineering

Dr. Kal Toth has many years experience as a systems engineer and was director of the Oregon Masters of Software Engineering, a very successful online program. During spring of 2012, he advised this program and contributed several articles related to online education and systems engineering. In Kal's Korner you will find papers on software engineeering relevant to online education in systems engineering and systems engineering papers as well.

October 2010, Herm Migliore gave a presentation, comparing different views of systems engineering, especially as applied to the beginning of the development process. In Herm's July 23, 2012, presentation, his discussion of masters degrees touches on ways to improve the practice of systems engineering.

October 26, 2012, PSU's System Engineering program sponsored an open forum on modeling in engineering. in collaboration with the International Council on Systems Engineering and IEEE. Here is a list of our panelists including a short bio', summary of their comments, and in many cases a copy of their presentation. The panelists included modeling familiar to mechanical, electrical, or software engineers. The theme of the forum was to try to connect systems engineering and its modeling to these domain specialties (and visa-versa).

September 13, 2013, PSU's System Engineering program is helping organize our second annual forum on modeling in systems engineering. in collaboration with the International Council on Systems Engineering, IEEE, and Mentor Graphics. We will shortly compile list of invited speakers who include tool developers from Mentor Graphics, IBM Rational, and No Magic and speakers who are actively using modeling in the fields of industrial automation and healthcare.