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The Power of Storytelling in Program Design

by fmccafferty

By Fran McCafferty, Vitech Principal Systems Engineer

One thing I have noticed over my years as a practicing principal systems engineer is that when program managers and technical leads can’t tell their story clearly, it’s because they aren’t clear about what they’re trying to accomplish.

Let me back up for a moment and introduce myself, since I’m a new blogger on these pages. I’m Fran McCafferty. I’ve recently joined Vitech as a Principal Systems Engineer. Although I’m new to Vitech, having just started on Nov. 28, I'm not new to systems engineering. My first systems engineering project was for GE Aerospace on the Strategic Defense Initiative program 30 years ago. In that role, I served as a subsystem lead systems engineer and as the program requirements manager, where I led the program effort in applying what we now know as model-based systems engineering.  More...

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Categories: Misc


Precision and the False Choice

by dlong

By David Long, Vitech President

Just like simplicity, not all precision is helpful. Heresy? Not for engineers. Engineers are taught to use the appropriate degree of precision for the circumstance at hand. Unfortunately, as systems engineers, we too often forget those lessons. The quest for precision can lead us astray, and some of our processes, methods, and tools actually feed this negative tendency. 

At its very foundation, systems engineering is both systems (the big picture, holistic thinking, and emergence) and engineering (rigor and analytics). It is the second aspect – the need and drive for rigor – that can be a source of trouble. Rigor correctly understood leads to the appropriate level of precision given the current level of knowledge and the task at hand. Rigor misunderstood leads us to prematurely delve into detail design while still working at the systems level, to project precision where analytics don’t support it, to overwork a problem when a higher level statement of feasibility is more appropriate.

Too often, we present ourselves with a false choice. The alternative to precision is framed as “ad hoc” or the absence of rigor. That false choice is used both ways – to engage in analyses that are premature or unwarranted and to avoid all rigor because the time is not right or detail is absent. But the choice is not about precision vs. ad hoc. It’s about accuracy and the right degree of accuracy for the circumstances. More...

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Categories: MBSE


The Siren Songs of Systems Engineering

by zscott

The Siren, Edward Armitage, 1888

First you will come to the Sirens who enchant all who come near them. If anyone unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again . . . There is a great heap of dead men's bones lying all around . . . Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men's ears with wax that none of them may hear . . . 

Homer, The Odyssey, Book XII

Zane Scott, Vitech Vice President of Professional Services

Most of us are familiar with Homer’s epic work, The Odyssey.  It tells the story of Odysseus’ 10-year journey home to Ithaca from the Trojan War. Along the way, he encounters many adventures and at one point is warned by the sorceress, Circe, of an impending danger – the song of the Sirens. Circe tells Odysseus of the Sirens whose beauty, musical talent, and songs lead sailors to their death along the rocky shores of their islands. She advises him to fill the ears of his men with beeswax so that they will not be tempted off course by the singing.

Odysseus does as instructed but lashes himself to the mast so that he can hear their song while remaining powerless to turn his ships toward it. This highlights an often overlooked but important point – both for Homer’s plot and our appropriation of it as an illustration. Even those who know the story generally operate with the assumption that the Sirens’ charms turns on the beauty of their countenances and/or their melody.

But a closer reading of Homer reveals otherwise. In Homer’s narrative, the Sirens sing to Odysseus “no one else has ever sailed past this place in his black ship until he has listened to the honey-sweet voice that issues from our lips; then goes on, well-pleased, knowing more than ever he did; for we know everything . . .” The lure of their song is not its beauty (or theirs) but its promise to impart exceptional wisdom.

This is the sense in which the postmodern-day Odysseus, the systems engineer, encounters the siren songs of our world. It is not the beauty of the Sirens or their songs that threaten the journey, but rather it is the emptiness of their promises of knowledge.

As we attempt to help systems engineering teams in both public and private sectors, we see them too often fall to the siren songs promising knowledge and truth from impossibly rocky shores. Two of these songs stand out with their Siren-like promises of wisdom hiding destructive results obscured by the songs.  More...

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Categories: MBSE | Misc

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