Benefits of systems engineering

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Systems engineering is a method for developing systems in the field of computer, networking, communication, research and development. The customer and stakeholder’s needs are satisfied in a high quality, trustworthy, cost efficient and schedule compliant manner throughout a system’s entire life cycle. To manage this, seven steps are usually followed: state the problem, investigate alternatives, model the system, integrate, launch the system, assess performance and re-evaluate [1]. These steps will be discussed further in the article, but to give an introduction, here are the basic core concepts of systems engineering:

Basic core concepts:

  • Understand the problem before you try to solve it
  • Translate the problem into measurable requirements
  • Examine all alternatives before selecting a solution
  • Consider the total system life cycle
  • Test the system before delivering it
  • Document everything.

Because systems engineering is such a wide discipline, this article will give an overview of what systems engineering is, and how some of the main principles could be beneficial to project management. Project management practitioners struggle everyday with projects which is not the size or complexity as the big and complex projects from which the Project Management and Systems Engineering professional standards and methods are established. Many do not have the resources for this. In this article the management task is tried scaled down, in a way that a practitioner can use some of the concepts.

Big idea

Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary approach where the point is to enable successful systems. It focuses on how to design and manage complex systems over their life cycles. Logistics, coordination of different teams, testing and evaluation, design, reliability are issues which become difficult when dealing with large or complex projects. This is what systems engineering deals with. It deals with work-processes, optimization methods and risk management. It is a methodology where the customers’ needs, and functionality is defined early in the development cycle, before going into the design. The development of this successful system or solution is constantly re-evaluated throughout its execution. [1]

To do so, there is a framework, or methodology in systems engineering. This framework generally consists of three fundamental steps:

  1. Formulation of the problem. The needs and objectives of a client group are identified, and design alternatives or options are found.
  2. Analysis of the Alternatives. The design and options are evaluated.
  3. Interpretation and selection. The design and options are compared, and the most acceptable alternative is being chosen based on how these are valued by the client group.

Figure 1: Formulation-Analysis-Interpretation

As seen in the figure the three fundamental steps are iterative. So are the expansion of these three fundamental steps of systems engineering, the seven step process, which is the most useful expansion. These seven steps are further explained in the article. [2] In these seven steps, design and development, validation and operation, quantitative risk assessment, is gone through stage by stage. The focus through these phases is often on performance, testing, scheduling and costs. [3]


The responsibility for the discipline of systems engineering is to create and execute a process to ensure that the customer and stakeholder’s needs are satisfied in a high quality, trustworthy, cost efficient and schedule compliant manner throughout a system’s entire life cycle. This process is often divided in these seven tasks:

  1. State the problem
  2. Investigate alternatives
  3. Model the system
  4. Integrate
  5. Launch the system
  6. Assess performance
  7. Re-evaluate

These seven tasks is not just repeated in this order. The functions are performed in an iterative manner.

Figure 2: The seven step process

State the problem. The problem statement should describe the top-level functions that the system must perform. Essential and preference requirements should be traceable to this problem statement. The problem statement should say what must be done and not how to do it. The customer’s requirements should be stated in functional or behavioural terms. It should be expressed in words or as a model. Operators, maintainers, suppliers, acquirers, owners, users, regulatory agencies, sponsors, manufacturers and other stakeholders will give input to the problem statement [1].

Investigate Alternatives. Several alternative design should be created and evaluated. This should be done to find the best solution, but also to reduce project risk. When investigating alternative designs, the problem statement is helped clarified. The evaluation of the designs should be based on performance, schedule, cost and risk figures of merit. To find the preferred alternatives, multicriteria decision-aiding techniques should be used. A method like this is necessary because no design is likely to be best on all figures of merit. This analysis should be redone when more data are available. The models should be constructed and evaluated, and prototypes should be built. At the end, the system should be tested [1].

Model the system. As the several alternatives should be investigated, there should also be models for most of the alternatives. For the preferred alternative the model should be expanded so that it can help manage the system throughout the complete life cycle. Some of the models that can be used are listed below:

  • Physical analogues
  • Analytical equations
  • State machines
  • Block diagrams
  • Functional flow diagrams
  • Object-oriented models
  • Computer simulations
  • Mental models

The models should be designed for creating a program, and a process for producing it. That is what systems engineering is. The process models make it easier to study scheduling changes, make PERT-charts and perform sensitivity analysis. Identify bottlenecks and fragmented activities and opportunities of cost improvement is some of the things that will be revealed when running the process and is why this is a good way to do it. [1]

Integrate. In systems engineering people with different disciplines shall work together. It is important to integrate these systems, businesses and people. Interaction is significant in systems engineering. Interfaces with subsystems has to be designed. These subsystems should work in that way that finished products should be sent to other subsystems. The feedback loops are easier to manage around individual systems, than around interconnected subsystems. Also, co-evolving systems must be integrated. This type of integration leads to efficient processes for the system. [1]

Launch the system. Launching the system means allowing the system to do what it was intended to do. The system should now produce outputs. It can mean to make things or to buy commercial off the shelf hardware or software. Now, the preferred alternative is designed in detail. The parts are built or bought, integrated and tested. Here humans will need to be trained for the tasks they are given. The process of producing the system is iterative and will go on until the optimal efficiency and effectiveness is achieved. [1]

Assess performance. The system must be evaluated, and figures of merit, technical performance measures and metrices are used. Figures of merit usually focuses on the product and are used to quantify necessities in the trade-off studies. To reduce risk during design and manufacturing, technical performance measures are used. Metrics are used to help manage a company’s processes. Measurement is important. Then you can control it and improve it. [1]

Re-evaluate. One very important tool in engineering is to use feedback to help control systems and improve performance. To re-evaluate outputs should be observed and the information should be used to modify the system, the inputs, the product or the process. [1]

Project Management

To see how project management can be inspired by the methodology of systems engineering it is necessary to investigate what project management is about. First, an explanation of what a project is. A project is temporary and has a start and end date. A project creates a unique product, service or result. A project manager works with a project team and stakeholders to find a good practice for the project. Processes, inputs, tools, techniques, outputs and life cycle phases must be determined. This is what a project manager should do, and these things can change depending on the type of project, so that it is important to have the knowledge to know what works for different types of projects. Project management should work in a way such that the projects are effective and efficient. The project management should help the organizations to several things: [4]

  • Meet business objectives
  • Satisfy stakeholder expectations
  • Be more predictable
  • Increase chances of success
  • Deliver the right products at the right time
  • Resolve problems and issues
  • Respond to risks in a timely manner
  • Optimize the use of organizational resources
  • Identify, recover, or terminate failing projects
  • Manage constraints (scope, quality, schedule, cost, resources)
  • Balance the influence of constraints on the project
  • Manage change in a better manner

A project manager should be able to make a project successful. The factors of a successful project is time, cost, scope and quality. If these things are all working out as they should, the project is considered successful [4]. This article will further discuss how some of the benefits of the framework in systems engineering can inspire project management to a successful project.

Benefits of systems engineering

As systems engineering is a discipline that is mostly developed for management of complex technical projects, the discussed benefit are them who can help a practitioner in project management in a smaller scale as well. Project management is about satisfying the customers, resolve problems and issues, deliver a product with good quality to the right time. To do so, it is important with good collaboration among the people that work together on the project. It is important that the employees know what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. A process, tools and guidance are needed to make it less chaotic and stressful. Because systems engineering is dependent on the cooperation between different disciplines, interrelation among all the disciplines that work together is central and a big focus. Interrelation is a part of the seven steps and they focus on creating subsystems which leads to efficient processes for the system. Interrelation is important for the technology, but also for the employees. When the interrelation among the disciplines is good, people tend to work better together, and it is easier when there is a plan for it. Not only is it good for making high quality products, the work environment is also strengthened. The project manager should be a part of making this an easy progress for the employees, by having focus on it, and having a clear plan for it. [5]

Another thing that is in focus in systems engineering is the high-quality results. As explained in the seven steps, they spend time on stating the problem, describing it, and finding out the customers’ requirements. Planning is important here. By knowing what to do, because there is good planning and preparatory work, the employees will not be distracted by unclear tasks, which again leads to higher productivity and efficiency. This also leads to lower costs of a project, which is something that is highly valued in project management. Another reason why systems engineering should be efficient and productive is because of the re-evaluation. The re-evaluation make you learn from mistakes and finding out what is working and what is not. By establishing effective knowledge transfer and lessons learned, errors or inefficiency from earlier projects can be eliminated. Re-evaluation will also improve the product, and a high-quality product will be delivered. This should ensure the stakeholders satisfaction with the project management function, as it ensures alignment with the expected deliverables.

Challenges with systems engineering

The original domains of systems engineering are aerospace and military. These are expensive, long-lasting, safety and reliability critical systems with typically the government as acquiring organization. As a consequence, the original systems engineering tends to be heavy, e.g. many documents, processes and bureaucratic [6]. Systems engineering can be too heavy for the not that complex projects, but then it is important to use the systems engineering framework as an inspiration.

The constantly changing requirements are also a challenge. Because of the continuous introduction of new technologies and priorities worldwide, the requirements are changing. If there is a lack of good communication between the ultimate user and the system developer, it can be a challenge and lead to misunderstandings of what the problem actually is. [7]

Because systems engineering is used for large-scale and complex problems, issues with risks and uncertainties involving future events, which are difficult to predict is a challenge. [2]


There are some challenges in systems engineering, but these challenges are more for the complex systems. When using systems engineering in project, these challenges must be considered, but it is also easier to consider them in a smaller scale. As explained before, what the practitioners need, are advice on how to scale down the systems engineering way of thinking to something achievable. And this is what can be the challenges of using systems engineering in management for projects that are not that complex. This is what is discussed in the section above on benefits, where the systems engineering way of thinking can inspire the management methods, and what is important in managing projects.

The seven steps in systems engineering is iterative. This means that the systems engineering approach is very useful in for example spacecraft design, computer chip design, robotics and software integration. These are systems that all the time can be re-evaluated. In for instance the building industry, the buildings and bridges are built, and it is not easy to re-evaluate and then use this information in the same project. At least not in the very end. But it should be evaluated so that the knowledge can be carried on to the next project. In this way, systems engineering is useful in many disciplines, and in the seven steps, there are many good ways of working. Such as the planning, or problem stating, the interrelation and the re-evaluation. Because of these things, the company or team will be much more flexible and able to respond to a customer’s requirements much faster.

Annotated bibliography

[1] Incose, About systems engineering. From: Downloaded: 20.02.19 This is a web-source from Incose. It is a web site that is developed by members of the International Council on Systems Engineering. Here, it is possible to find further information of what systems engineering is all about and the current SE standards are linked to. The article named, about systems engineering is about the seven step process, which has been the main source of information.

[2] Sage P. Andrew, “Methodological Frameworks and Systems Engineering Processes” in Introduction to systems engineering. Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. The book is an introduction to what systems engineering is. In the chapter, methodological frameworks and systems engineering processes, the framework in systems engineering is explained, as the seven steps. Also some challenges of systems engineering is addressed here.

[4] Project Management Institute. “Introduction”, in Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, sixth edition. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, 2017, 1. This book is a guide on how to use tools in project management. It also explains what is important in project management. The main source of information in this book has been the first chapter, introduction where it is explained some fundamental elements as what a project is and the importance of a project manager.

[6] Gerrit, Jan Muller. Personal communication, 1st of March, 2019. This source is from an e-mail with a professor, teaching in master of science in systems engineering in South-East Norway.


  • [1] Incose, About systems engineering. From: Downloaded: 20.02.19
  • [2] Sage, P. Andrew and Armstrong, JR, E. James, “Methodological Frameworks and Systems Engineering Processes” in Introduction to systems engineering. Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2000, 46.
  • [3] Online engineering program. What do systems engineers do. From: Downloaded: 20.02.19
  • [4] Project Management Institute. “Introduction”, in Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, sixth edition. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, 2017, 1.
  • [5] Burge Hughes Walsh Limited, Systems Engineering People. From: Downloaded: 21.02.19
  • [6] Gerrit, Jan Muller. Personal communication, 1st of March, 2019.
  • [7] Blanchard S. Benjamin and Blyler E. John. “Introduction to System Engineering” in System Engineering Management, 5th edition. Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2016,1.


  1. Sage, P. Andrew and Armstrong, JR, E. James, “Methodological Frameworks and Systems Engineering Processes” in Introduction to systems engineering. Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2000, 51.
  2. Bahill, Terry, A, What is systems engineering? A consensus of senior systems engineers, 2009. From: Downloaded: 02.03.19
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