Sarah Sheard's Thoughts and Theories

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Systems Engineering Struggles to Distinguish Itself

A colleague emailed me that SE struggles to distinguish itself from other engineering disciplines.

That is true, but SE also struggles to distinguish itself:

-from "just good engineering" (aka "why do we need systems engineers? they don't have a product. We'll just tell the real engineers to do it better")

-from project management ("Why would we have a systems engineer pull together a proposal package? the technical editor is much cheaper")

-from software "engineering", since much of any system we build today is software, why don't software engineers just do it all (well for one thing, they consider anything physical to be outside their scope, and for another thing, they aren't engineers. Not to mention that SWE preaches creating a single design, not trading off among alternatives based on which best meets requirements)

-from "a process discipline" ...this grates me the worst, I think. Back in the 80s SEs were the core of making things work together, the real generalists. Then in the 90s people tried to define "processes", which isn't bad in and of itself, but now some groups think processes is ALL systems engineering is, that systems engineers are cheap ignoramuses who just follow checklists.In response they try to come up with a new name for the kind of SE that we used to do, the kind with no specific process since it deals with unprecedented tasks and systems.

I would appreciate hearing your stories about how SE got confused with something.

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