One of the reasons I love my job is that I have the opportunity to talk to prospective customers about their project pain points, and I help them develop a system solution to address their needs. As a result of these initial conversations, the topic inevitably turns to a model-based systems engineering (MBSE) solution. Usually, people claim to have an understanding of MBSE, even saying that they have been practicing it for some time, however I have found this to be often incorrect. Many systems engineers still have a misunderstanding of what is truly needed to enable an MBSE approach. Often, prospective customers will approach me seeking a tool that will solve their woes, hoping to make the change to MBSE a seamless one. Unfortunately, a tool is not the MBSE silver bullet they are seeking. Even though a systems engineering tool is a great enabler, it can only truly enable when the organization is primed for an MBSE implementation. Below are 5 facets needed to enable MBSE within your organization, prior to considering the use of a tool:
- Talented Systems Engineers – To implement MBSE, you must first have experienced and talented systems engineers in your organization. We recommend that you have a combination of senior-level SEs and junior-level SEs to work collaboratively on your projects. The senior-level SEs have enough systems engineering experience to apply lessons learned and to mentor the younger engineers in the organization. Often, the younger engineers provide a more open mindset and fresh perspective to the SE approach, but need the knowledge/wisdom of the senior engineers to guide them. If your team is new to systems engineering, we recommend that each engineer in the organization with a system role receive a solid SE education and work with an SE expert to fill in the knowledge gaps of the engineering team. All of the engineers in your organization must be systems thinkers, to consider problems from a system prospective, keeping the vision of the entire system in mind throughout the project lifecycle. They must also have a broad understanding of all engineering disciplines, enabling them to effectively communicate across the team and to the applicable stakeholders. Effective communication both internally and externally are key to implementing a model-based systems engineering solution.
- MB(SE) Education – One of the biggest challenges I face in MBSE discussions with systems engineers is the misconceptions of what exactly constitutes systems engineering and a model-based approach. Honestly, very few people will agree on what MBSE actually entails. This becomes a significant challenge when implementing an MBSE approach in an organization, as everyone comes to the project with his or her own understanding. In order to implement MBSE effectively, each member of your organization needs to have the same comprehension of the definition of MBSE, the benefits model-centricity, and what activities are involved in implementation. Vitech offers an MBSE tutorial and A Primer for Model-Based Systems Engineering to educate organizations interested in model-based systems engineering. It is designed to get everyone on the same page; managers, systems engineers, and business development/marketing personnel can all benefit from the education, enabling a shared vision of what MBSE can bring to their projects.
- MBSE mentorship – Education is key to MBSE, but a successful implementation involves some level of mentorship from experts. MBSE experts can help guide you to understand what you need to successfully enable the approach. They can help you understand what to model, to what detail, what pieces of the model should be analyzed, what to expect as outcomes of the approach, what tools are needed to enable MBSE, and even assist with organizational changes to make MBSE implementation as effective as possible. The mentor will ideally “teach to fish,” meaning he or she will work closely with your team at the genesis of the project to help define the scope of the implementation, the processes, the implementation of tools, etc. and taper out of the project as your engineers become more adept and confident with the MBSE activities, processes, and tools. Vitech’s professional services team offers mentorship and consultations to assist with solving your engineering problems using an MBSE approach.
- A specified MBSE approach – A specified and understood MBSE approach will enable the organization to be deliberate and systematic when implementing MBSE. Keep in mind, that the approach should be one that works for the problem and is a good fit for the organization. Fundamental requirements for your MBSE approach: 1) It must consistently lead to the development of successful systems, 2) It must manage system complexity well, 3) It must lead to effective solutions to a broad range of customer needs, and 4) It must accommodate the three main engineering problem classes (top-down engineering, reverse engineering, and middle-out engineering). At Vitech, we use the STRATA™ method, which is a layered approach to systems engineering. STRATA implements the four systems engineering domains: requirements, behavior, physical architecture, and verification and validation for each layer of your system. As the layers progress, they represent an increasing amount of detail in the model. STRATA enables the SE team to mature the model at each layer, prior to proceeding to the next layer of the system design. Designing based on the layered approach will increase specificity, remove ambiguity, and discover gaps as you complete layer-by-layer. Because STRATA focuses on the four domains before considering the next level of our system, problems are found earlier in the design, and can be fixed more easily by only looking a up a layer or two to find where the problem was introduced, keeping rework and impact to a minimum. Whatever approach you choose, your engineers should be educated on the approach and your tools should facilitate that approach. It is wise to document the approach so that new members of the team can easily educate themselves and so that you can later reflect on the effectiveness.
- Context of the MBSE implementation – A true systems engineer understands that a system must be understood in the context of what it can do and the world in which it will do it. Think of moving to a model-based approach in the same way. Treat the implementation of MBSE on your project/in your organization as a systems engineering problem. Draw your system boundary and understand the context of your system. By doing this, you will allow for your initial MBSE implementation to be a sizeable/tangible effort. Once the boundary is drawn, the context is understood, and the first phase of the implementation is complete and successful, you can expand that boundary to further implement the approach. You can expand it to other projects or other organizations within the company, eventually resulting in a large-scale, culturally accepted, MBSE approach to your systems engineering projects.
Most organizations believe that purchasing an MBSE tool will allow them to successfully implement a model-based approach. Even though a tool is an enabler (you will read more about this in later posts), it is important to appropriately position your organization and plan for the MBSE implementation by creating a team of talented systems engineers, providing MBSE education, seeking expert MBSE mentorship, specifying a specific MBSE approach, and considering the context of the MBSE implementation. Once you have primed your organization for the change, you are ready to take the leap and transition to using a model-based systems engineering approach on your projects.