3 Steps to Building Systems Engineering Excellence Within Your Organization

Systems Engineering Cogs
WRITTEN BY Nathan thomas, senior systems engineer at base2 solutions

WRITTEN BY Nathan thomas, senior systems engineer at base2 solutions

Nathan Thomas is a Senior Systems Engineer, project manager, and engineering team lead at Base2 Solutions. He has expertise in avionics and aircraft systems, certification, quality processes (AS9100), and project leadership. Nathan holds a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering and a Certificate of Special Study in Systems Engineering & Architecture. Prior to joining Base2 in 2013, Nathan was a Senior Systems Engineer at Rockwell Collins.

Innovative, high tech companies are turning to Systems Engineering to help them speed product delivery, manage big data, and improve the success rate of software projects, which have a well-deserved bad rap.

Systems Engineering is not a new concept. It’s a tried and true discipline that has been around since the 1940s when Bell Labs created and utilized the discipline to develop the Nike surface-to-air missile system. The Apollo program was one of the first examples of the conscious application of modern Systems Engineering.

I am convinced that the failure rate is 15 to 20 percent for projects that have budgets of $10 million or more. Looking at the total investment in new software projects... over the last five years, I estimate that project failures have likely cost the U.S. economy at least $25 billion and maybe as much as $75 billion.
— Robert Charette, President, ITABHI Corp.

As products are becoming more software-driven and technically complex, we see Systems Engineering practices springing up in new industries and programs all the time. To answer the demand for Systems Engineering, the best companies have found ways to nurture and develop Systems Engineering talent within.

When combined with formal Systems Engineering instruction and on the job training, these three best practices create the ideal environment for developing Systems Engineering talent and help bring excellence to your most complex programs and products.

1) Enable broad product development life cycle exposure

Effective Systems Engineering requires an understanding of each step of the product development and manufacturing process. Whether it’s a formal rotation program, or simply providing a way for employees to gain exposure to other job functions at different phases of the project, it’s important to make sure that they have an understanding of each step along the way.

2) Provide big-picture understanding

The second best practice is to provide big-picture understanding. This includes an understanding of the environment in which the product will be designed, built, tested, and used. Beyond technical requirements, it’s important to understand the regulatory environment and non-technical requirements as well.

It is common for new engineers to focus on the technical aspects of a process or design while ignoring other critical aspects like human factors, manufacturability, and the product’s potential for future design evolution. Customer reviews, factory visits, field testing, and other face-to-face interactions with the products’ users offer great opportunities to gain broader perspectives.

The quickest way to learn is through experience. It’s helpful to provide opportunities for them to get their hands on the product, see it being built, and see it in use. These experiences will add meaning and context everything else.

3) Connect inexperienced talent to an engaged and accessible mentor

The third best practice is to provide an engaged and accessible mentor. Collocation provides maximum accessibility and assigning a mentee to the same project as the mentor helps ensure that the mentoring is integral to project success, not just a secondary assignment.

Systems Engineering is rarely taught as part of undergraduate curriculum and operating in new ways can sometimes be hard - a mentor can help reduce the learning curve.

Also, many new systems engineers are given assignments without the proper context. Understanding how a task fits into the overall scope of the project will enhance learning, provide focus and direction, and add significance to the assignment. A mentor can help do this.

Learn more about Systems Engineerings’ principles, history, and a step by step guide to get you started by downloading our free guide below.


Download the Free Guide to Systems Engineering

This white paper is ideal for any business leader looking to bring organizational change to their workplace through systems engineering principles, processes, and best practices.

What you'll learn:

  • The definition and history of systems engineering
  • Four fundamentals of systems engineering
  • Three steps into integrating systems engineering
  • Best practices for growing systems engineering talent at your workplace

This is a must read for any systems engineering professional in a highly-regulated, product or software development focused industry such as manufacturing, healthcare, aerospace, transportation, or government.