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Feb16

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

Jan26

The Need to Suboptimize Systems Engineering

by dlong

By David Long, Vitech President

A good systems engineer working on a project should seek to suboptimize systems engineering. A heretical statement? Not really. In fact, the path to optimizing systems engineering lies in suboptimizing systems engineering. It may sound paradoxical, but it’s true.

The purpose of systems engineering is to deliver the desired business value to the customer efficiently and effectively, free from unintended consequences. Systems engineering does not do this in isolation. It does this in concert with project management and countless domain specialties key to the problem at hand and the solutions under consideration. For systems engineers, it’s easy to become obsessed with our processes, methods, tools, and artifacts. However, the purpose of systems engineering is not the execution of an interdisciplinary process. Nor is it generation of a specification. The purpose of systems engineering is not even delivery of the system of interest. The system we engineer is simply a means to the end – delivering the desired business value.  More...

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Categories: MBSE

Dec15

Avoiding Off-ramps on the Way to Good Systems Engineering

by dlong

By David Long, Vitech President

There is no doubt that systems engineering is growing. It is growing in applicability as the degree of complication and complexity rises across many different application domains – aerospace and defense, transportation, automotive, energy, medical, consumer products, and more. It is growing in importance as we seek to deliver value efficiently and effectively, free from unintended consequences. But as systems engineering grows, there is a groundswell of frustration as well – that what people call systems engineering is not really systems engineering at all.

This complaint has increasingly been raised in private discussions, small meetings, and public forums, and I share that sense of frustration. It is often framed in terms of individual practitioners and organizations performing “partial systems engineering” or “checklist systems engineering,” sometimes tinged with a sense of nostalgia for the early days of the practice. Rarely do I hear it framed in an “us versus them” mindset, but more often in a constructive question of how do we make good systems engineering more accessible to all those who could benefit from good application and good practice.  More...

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Categories: MBSE | Misc

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