A Sound and Comprehensive Understanding of Systems Engineering

To attract you – the reader – to systems engineering it would be possible to follow a marketing approach convincing you how fancy and extraordinary systems engineering really is. Easily, visions could be raised about what systems engineering may achieve and how proud you will be to become a contributor making a real difference, if you master systems engineering. Instead, you will see how ordinary, but important systems engineering is.

The content of this website is compiled with a few basic assumptions in mind:

These basic assumptions demand some explanation. In a first approach, let us concentrate on discussing the terms system, systems thinking, implicit and explicit systems engineering.

Systems and Systems Thinking

For our perception of the world, our visual and auditive senses provide us with some distant information. What we perceive is not like a screenshot or a mixture of audio wave frequencies. If so, our visual perception, for example, would result in a small colourful cone area at the centre and a grey-scaled image offsite with a blind spot in between. What we actually see are things with visual shapes. What we hear are noises, voices and sounds. All the individual perceptions are further merged cognitively into scenarios of what is and what may happen.

Scenarios are less characterised by the constituents than by resulting behaviours within these scenarios. We may denominate scenarios by particular terms like traffic. The term system is just a placeholder term for traffic as thing is a placeholder term for a car, e.g., something with a physical shape. Of course, the term system may also be used as placeholder term for a car having in mind that the car’s behaviour emerges from the functions of its building blocks. Thus, the term system may be applied in a recursive manner resulting in multilevel system architectures. Systems comprise system elements that themselves may be denominated as systems.

Systems thinking is just thinking in scenarios. Systems thinking is a core function in our cognitions.

Implicit and Explicit Systems Engineering

Implicit systems engineering starts with the usage of tools. An ape using a stalk for catching termites from otherwise unreachable places has a need, imagines a scenario, and utilises the stalk. Caledonian crows go even further by manufacturing hooks and similar tools for equivalent purposes. Some creative insight must have led to the inventions. The new behaviour spreads within a population by imitation, as far as we know. Some distant populations of Caledonian crows have developed different designs for their tools indicating continuous improvement and cultural distinction.

Similarly, a human apprentice learns techniques from the master by imitation. The availability of an argumentative language allows additional descriptions and explanations providing humans with an evolutionary advantage over all other creatures living in our biosphere. In consequence, human populations tend to enter a path of growth. When the satisfaction of basic needs is achieved in a sustainable manner, the surplus provides opportunities to consider the satisfaction of more advanced needs. Civilisation structures start to develop based on the principles: specialisation, workshare, and standardisation. Specialisation directs artisanship downwards towards the improvement of the discipline’s subjects: products, services, processes, methods, and tools. Standardisation simplifies the workshare. Standardisation may start with standards for nuts and bolts. In mature societies, standardisation ends up in the fixation of technical, economic and societal architectures.

However, the world is not static. Whenever established system architectures are challenged severely, they have to be adopted accordingly. The reliance on invisible hands alone lets evolution apply its trial-and-error methods but may lead to catastrophic outcomes – at least from a human point of view. In order to beat evolution, explicit systems engineering becomes essential. Due to specialisation and workshare, artisans on higher-level systems with complete knowledge of all lower-level systems may not exist at all. A multidisciplinary cooperation of all disciplines involved is necessary for a comprehensive understanding of the problem space and a concise investigation of solution alternatives. Systems engineering is best performed following mutually communicated and agreed rules. Systems engineers are just engineers that are capable to represent their discipline in these multidisciplinary endeavours. Aside, a specialised engineering discipline denominated as systems engineering exists concerned with advancing the theory of systems engineering, and its practical application.