The benefits of systems engineering

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Developed by Sara Ingrid Elisabeth Cassel

Contents

Summary

The scope for this Wiki article is to explore the possibilities of systems engineering being more beneficial compared to other management concepts. In this article a presentation of the basic concept of systems engineering will be made followed by a comparison with other management approaches such as:

  • Project Management
  • Benefit Realisation Management
  • PRINCE2

and a reflection on their different mind-sets and frameworks.

The inspiration for this article are the need for knowledge and understanding in how the different management approaches can influence a project and how these concepts can contribute to the building process being more efficient.

The benefits that you can recognize with Systems Engineering are the possibility of high quality results. By prioritizing every system in a project and acknowledge their contributions, a better understanding for every involved party can be obtained which can contribute to a feeling of one united team reaching for the same goal, not one hand leading the team to the direction of a goal, as many other management methods can be perceived. In the building industry where the importance of re-evaluation and experience is so important this management approach fits perfectly. There might be some space left for evolvement in the method, for example adopting some of the benefits theories from Benefits Realization Management, but Systems Engineering is a well-structured base to evolve from. Despite which management approach is suited best for the project, the importance of aligned implementation and integration within the organization, throughout the entire project life cycle, cannot be more emphasized.

Introduction to Systems Engineering (SE)

Fundamentals of concept

The basic concept of systems engineering is to have an interdisciplinary approach by involving knowledge, methods, terminology and expertise from different kinds of disciplines and by this allow successful systems. The focus is to define customers required functionality and needs for a specific project in an early stage while also considering the complete project lifecycle. This includes operations, performance, cost and schedule, training and support, test, disposal and manufacturing. The goal is to form a structured development process that proceeds from concept to production to operation by integrate all different disciplines and speciality groups involved in a project into a team. By doing this, all customers needs, both the technical requirements and the business side of a project, will be considered. The goal of providing a quality product that fulfils the needs of the user will likely be realised. [1]

A system can be defined as a collection of different elements that produces a better result put together then what can be obtained by the elements alone. These different elements can be all the things required to obtain system results, for example people, software or hardware, facilities, policies and documents. The system is a result of the high level of quantities, properties, characteristics, functions, behaviour and performance obtained by the collection of elements. This system-level result is created by the connection made among the elements. [2]

An engineered system is an open system made out of technical or sociotechnical elements which is created by or for people with a purpose to satisfy key stakeholders and has a life cycle. The engineered system has a boundary and an external environment and is a part of a system-of-interest hierarchy. [3]

Method of practice

Systems engineering is used to ensure that the needs of the customer and the stakeholders are satisfied and that a high quality, trustworthy, cost efficient and schedule accommodating manner is used throughout the system’s entire life cycle. This process is described by the acronym SIMILAR with consists of the following seven tasks:

  • State the problem
  • Investigate alternatives
  • Model the system
  • Integrate
  • Launch the system
  • Assess performance
  • Re-evaluate

The SIMILAR Process is visualized by Figure 1. It is important to note that the systems engineering process is executed in a parallel and iterative manner between all elements. [1]

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Figure 1

By stating the problem a description of the top-level functions that is required by the system is made. All requirements should be traceable to this problem statement. A problem statement should be in terms of what must be done, not how it should be done. Inputs for this statement comes from end users, operators, maintainers, suppliers, etc. Based on performance, schedule, cost and risk, different designs are created for evaluation of which alternative is preferred. All alternatives should be judged for how they accomplish the set requirements to reduce project risk and to clarify the problem statement. Models will be developed for most of the alternative designs but the most preferred alternative model will continuously be expanded and used to help manage the system throughout the entire life cycle. For this, many types of system models are created to help along the process. These models can help to study scheduling changes, create PERT charts and to perform different analyses and also to explain the system. As explained earlier in this article, the fundamentals of systems engineering is to integrate different disciplines and to make them integrate with each other and work as a whole. It is important to define and to create interfaces between subsystems to minimize the amount of information that will be exchanged between them. This contributes to easier manageable information and also to more efficient processes. To launch the system means running it and making it produce outputs. In this phase the preferred alternative will be designed in detail and the processes used for this are developed. The process of designing and producing the system is iterative as knew knowledge are developed along the way can cause a re-consideration and modification of the preferred alternative. Measurement is the key, if you cannot measure it, you cannot control it. If you cannot control it, you cannot improve it. It is highly important to assess the performance of the system and to manage its resources throughout the system life cycle. As one of the most fundamental engineering tools, re-evaluation of the system is a continuous process and will do many parallel loops throughout the entire process. This means observing outputs and using that information to modify the system. This is revealed in Figure 1.

It is also important when using systems engineering that the whole process should be documented, measurable, and stable and have a low variability. The concept should be used the same why by all disciplines. [1]

Pros and cons with Systems Engineering

Pros

When incorporating the methods and tool in Systems Engineering the concept can improve the quality and management of requirements in a project. These methods and tools results in better work breakdown structures and plans that deliver enhanced specifications to e.g. suppliers and sub-contractors. Project management and Systems Engineering have the same project goals, but they differ in approaching them. Project management defines them and Systems Engineering knows how to deliver them. Due to the fact that Systems Engineering fix foreseen errors in the concept stage, it is possible to stop the cost rising exponentially. Systems Engineering is a way of working less chaotic and stressful. It brings people benefits as well. [4]

Cons

While there are several beneficial contributions with Systems Engineering there are also some significant root problems that are external to Systems Engineering. The external problems can limit the benefits that can be achieved by Systems Engineering. These problems are, to a large degree, issues of management, organization, incentives, subject matter expertise and previous experience of Systems Engineering. These external problems are more problems of implementation, integration and execution of Systems Engineering than of the methods and tools of Systems Engineering. The highly central issue with Systems Engineering is the overoptimistic estimates in a project and the lack of clear lines of the ownership and accountability. External input requirements to the program can be unrealistic and incomplete which undermine Systems Engineering execution and confidence in this management concept. [5]

Conclusion

To be successful with Systems Engineering, it is important to understand the problem, investigate alternative solutions, agree and manage the requirements and interfaces, prepare the test and support systems and track progress against a plan.

It is not difficult to notice when Systems Engineering fails, because when something important goes wrong it usually appears fast. But when Systems Engineering is successful, no one usually notice – which is how it should be. [4]

Approach of other management concepts in relation to Systems Engineering

Project Management

Project Management is defined as the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet the specific requirements of a project.

A project is a temporary investment to create a unique product, service or a result. It is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time. Which lead to the project having a defined scope and resources. You can define a project as to be unique in that it has not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish one goal.

Project Management can be divided into different processes which are; initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling and closing. [6] The first process is to carefully examine the project idea to determine whether or not it is beneficial to the organization. A decision making team is identifying if the project can realistically be completed. After the project conception and initiation the project definition and planning begin. A project plan, charter and/or scope may be created to outline the work that has to be performed. A team will prioritize the project, calculate the budget and schedule, and define needed resources for completing the project. It is now time to execute and launch the project. This is done by distributing the tasks to the resources and inform teams with their responsibilities. In this phase important information related to the project will be addressed. During the project performance, project managers will compare project status and progress with the actual plan. During this phase, changes to the project schedule may be done by the project managers to keep the project on track. When the project is completed and the client has approved the result of the project, an evaluation is made to highlight the project success and to learn from its history. This is called the project close. [7]

The knowledge of Project Management covers 10 fields

  • Integration
  • Cost
  • Human resources
  • Stakeholder management
  • Scope
  • Quality
  • Communications
  • Time
  • Procurement
  • Risk management

Projects and Project Management processes differ from different industries. But the idea is that Project management creates a unique focus on shaping the goals, resources and schedule for a specific project despite where it is used. [6]

Benefits Realisation Management

Benefits Realisation Management is defined as the process of organising and managing to achieve the highest potential benefits in a project. It is a continuous process that runs through the complete life-cycle of a project. It works as a core process for any change initiative, it is the backbone for any programme, involving more than a few benefit events in the early stage of the process.

The fundamentals of Benefits Realisation Management is that it should be the driver for all change and programme activities. This includes the following highlights;

  • Providing the mechanism for engaging stakeholders
  • Defining requirements and acceptance criteria
  • Help establishing and maintaining the Blueprint
  • Determine project and programme boundaries
  • Develop programme and project plans
  • Identify risks
  • Informing the Business Case
  • Ongoing monitoring and reviews

An important key point for Benefits Realisation Management is to recognise the starting position for a project to reach the end point, the goal. This means that the current status, drivers for change, stakeholders and cultural factors have a central part in the first process to active engage with the business, articulates and establishes. Only then can Benefit realisation management determine the change that is required to achieve the goal. [8]

The Benefits Realisation Management was developed to guide the conception and the management of projects, based on the business needs and to support effective governance. These practices work as a link between strategic alignment and project success, supporting the management of a more effective project and ensuring the delivery of business needs. [9]

PRINCE2

The term PRINCE2 stands for Projects IN Controlled Environments and is a structured project management method which is based on experiences from previous projects and the contributions from project sponsors, project managers, project team, consultants, academics and trainers.

The idea of PRINCE2 is to isolate the management aspects of a project work from the specialist contributions, for example design and construction, to provide a secure overall framework for the project work. Due to this method being generic and based on proven principles, the organizations that adopts this method can significantly improve their organization competences and maturity across various areas such as business change, construction, IT, mergers and acquistions, research and product development.

PRINCE2 defines a project as a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed Business Case. This method addresses project management through four integrated elements of principles, themes, processes and project environment. Figure 2 illustrates the structure of PRINCE2.

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Figure 2

To identify if a project is genuinely being managed by using PRINCE2 there are some guiding requirements and good practices that should all be followed. These are seven principles that defines if the project is a PRINCE2 project.

The PRINCE2 principles are

  1. Continued business justification – is there a justifiable reason for starting the project that will remain consistent throughout its duration?
  2. Learn from experience – PRINCE2 project teams should continually seek and draw on lessons learned from previous work.
  3. Defined roles and responsibilities – the PRINCE2 project team should have a clear organizational structure and involve the right people in the right tasks.
  4. Manage by stage – PRINCE2 projects should be planned, monitored and controlled on a stage-by-stage basis.
  5. Manage by exception – PRINCE2 project have defined tolerances for each project objective to establish limits of delegated authority.
  6. Focus on products – PRINCE2 projects focus on the project definition, delivery and quality requirements.
  7. Tailor to suit the project environment – PRINCE2 is tailored to suit the project’s environment, size, complexity, importance, capability and risk.

There are also seven themes that has to be followed in parallel throughout the project. These seven themes describe the specific treatment required by PRINCE2 and why they are so necessary to various project management disciplines.

The PRINCE2 themes are the following

  1. Business case – What value would delivering the project bring to the organization?
  2. Organization – How will the project team’s individual roles and responsibilities be defined in order for them to effectively manage the project?
  3. Quality – What the quality requirements and measures are and how the project will deliver them.
  4. Plans – The steps required to develop the plans and PRINCE2 techniques that should be used.
  5. Risk – How the project management will address the uncertainties in its plans and the project environment.
  6. Change – How the project management will assess and act on unforeseen issues or request for change.
  7. Progress – The ongoing viability and performance of the plans and how and whether the project should proceed.

By describing the project life cycle, PRINCE2 use seven steps from getting started to the project closure. These steps provides checklists and recommended activities, products and related responsibilities for the project lifecycle.

The PRINCE2 processes are as follows

  1. Starting up the project
  2. Directing the project
  3. Initiating the project
  4. Controlling the specific stage
  5. Managing product delivery
  6. Managing stage boundaries
  7. Closing the project

Figure 3 illustrates the use of the PRINCE2 processes through the project life cycle.


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Figure 3

PRINCE2 is not a solution that is supposed to fit to all projects, tailoring the method to the project environment is a way to adapt PRINCE2 to the specific context of the project. It is said to be a flexible framework but the point is to adopt it to the specific need and be tailored to any type and size of a project. [10]

Using PRINCE2 can provide a greater control of resources and increase the ability to manage business and project risk more effectively. This can be beneficial for the individuals seeking leading project management skills and greater employment prospects, project managers, directors/executives of projects and organisations. For the organisation, PRINCE2 is a formal acknowledgement of responsibilities within a project. It focuses on the why, when and for whom within the projects deliverable and provides a common consistent approach, a controlled and organized start, middle and end, regular reviews of progress against plan and assurance that the project continues to have a business justification. [11]

Reflection

As the pace of change (technology, business, social, regulatory etc.) accelerates, and the penalties of failing to adapt to change become more evident, the focus of management attention is inevitably moving to achieve a balance within a business, in this case the building process of a project. There are a lot of ways to manage these projects and one may not be better than the other. But they can be carefully chosen and used to optimize the specific requirements so that the highest goal is achieved. By choosing the right management method and/or approach project efficiency can be obtained.

Systems Engineering focuses on fulfilling the customer and stakeholder requirements with high quality by stating the importance of each system and by using a straight forward and excellent breakdown structure for the management of projects. Following the Systems Engineering SIMILAR Process there is a constant re-evaluation that adds value to the project process and increase the chance of delivering a high quality product. By continuously erasing errors and making evaluations, each system can obtain new knowledge and experience throughout the project which not only provides a good end result but also valuable knowledge to carry on to the next project.

Compared to Systems Engineering, Project Management addresses the attentions more on how the project is managed and not specifically what the project teams has to do to deliver the required project. An easy way to explain the focus of Project Management is to define a beginning and an end. It is important to investigate the resources required for the project and to have a fixed goal.

Benefits Realisation Management is based on the same practices as for Project Management, but the difference is the attention to project benefits, which can be more compared to Systems Engineering. This method emphasise the importance of communicating with and between the different stakeholders and systems in a project. PRINCE2 is a way of better communication based on Project Management. Compared to Systems Engineering both these methods relies on the knowledge and experience of each system within a project. The future project process is based on previous experiences and project environment is continuously re-evaluated.

The benefits that you can recognize with Systems Engineering are the possibility of high quality results. By prioritizing every system in a project and acknowledge their contributions, a better understanding for every involved party can be obtained which can contribute to a feeling of one united team reaching for the same goal, not one hand leading the team to the direction of a goal, as many other management methods can be perceived. In the building industry where the importance of re-evaluation and experience is so important this management approach fits perfectly. There might be some space left for evolvement in the method, for example adopting some of the benefits theories from Benefits Realization Management, but Systems Engineering is a well-structured base to evolve from. Despite which management approach is suited best for the project, the importance of aligned implementation and integration within the organization, throughout the entire project life cycle, cannot be more emphasized.

References

[1] http://www.incose.org/AboutSE/WhatIsSE (09-2015)

[2] Rechtin, E., W. Maier, M. (2000) “The art of systems architecting”, CRC Press

[3] SEBoK (2015) “Guide to the Systems engineering Body of Knowledge”, BKCASE, June 2015

[4] http://www.incoseonline.org.uk/Documents/zGuides/Z3_Why_invest_in_SE.pdf (2009), UK Chapter, International Council of Systems Engineering

[5] Ali K . Kamrani and Maryam Azimi (2010) “Systems Engineering Tools and Methods”, CRC Press Taylor & Francis Group

[6] http://www.pmi.org/About-Us/About-Us-What-is-Project-Management.aspx (2015) “What is Project Management?”, Project Management Institute, Inc.

[7] http://www.projectinsight.net/project-management-basics/basic-project-management-phases (2015) “5 Basic Phases of Project Management”, Project Insight by Metafuse, Inc.

[8] https://www.gowerpublishing.com/pdf/SamplePages/Benefit_Realisation_Management_2nd_Ch4.pdf (2015) “Benefit Realisation Management - A Practical Guide to Achieving Benefits Through Change”, Gerald Bradley

[9] http://www.pmi.org/Learning/academic-research/~/media/pdf/surveys/carlosserra-benefitsrealization-summary-engus.ashx (2013) “Benefits Realization Management and its influence on project success, project governance, and execution of business strategy - Analysis of Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America”, Carlos Eduardo Martins Serra, MSc, PMP, The University of Warwick

[10] https://www.axelos.com/best-practice-solutions/prince2/what-is-prince2 (10-2015) AXELOS Global Best Practice

[11] https://www.prince2.com/uk/what-is-prince2 (10-2015) ILX Group

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