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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

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