05. Systems Engineering

05

Systems Engineering

A transdisciplinary and integrative approach to delivering what the customer wants and needs, on time, in budget and without negative unintended consequences.

 

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What exactly is Systems Engineering?

It’s building the right system, and building the system right. Common sense isn’t quite as common as you’d think.

 

Because engineered products are designed by specialist mechanical, electrical or software engineers, the final product doesn’t always suit the intended purpose or objective. Simply put, this is because a wide breadth of considerations have been missed; like “what happens if someone tries to use the product in a way other than the stated instructions – Does the product suddenly pose a real danger, or is now hazardous to health?” This is just a simple example where a ‘siloed’ design approach falls short.

 

At AEON, all of our projects adopt a Systems Engineering approach that considers the whole problem, the whole system, and the whole lifecycle. This approach toward engineering projects means that any product developed by us has been designed and extensively tested to perform to specification, and takes into account a spectrum of users, those users’ needs, how the product will be used (use-cases) as well as the complete product lifecycle (design, manufacture, operation and decommissioning).

Our Approach

Our approach has a proven track record of delivering a 15-20% reduction to product development costs and time-to-market.

The Six Steps to Success

1. Understand the Problem
Sounds simple, but it really shouldn’t be skipped. Taking the time to write down exactly what benefit the system will impart is a valuable exercise. Ask yourself, “How will the operational effectiveness be measured?” “What does that mean in terms of an improvement from our last product?” “Who are the stakeholders? Have we really identified them all?”

 

2. Conceptualise
Consider the different approaches to fulfil needs; try not to limit yourself to existing solutions or off-the-shelf solutions, these may not necessarily align perfectly to your problem. It’s worth recording your notes and decision making so that you can substantiate later down the line.

 

3. Test and Support Systems
No system exists in isolation. Think about the adjacent systems that may need to be developed so as to be able to test and verify your system’s performance against the specification. Ask “Have these been costed, and planned for?” and “Can these performance metrics be verified accurately?”

 

4. Agree and Manage Technical Requirement Specifications
When we talk about user needs, as engineers, we try to translate these into individual technical requirement specification, or simply requirements. By documenting these requirements, it means that we’re able to concretely measure how successful our system is at performing its intended role. 

 

5. Agree and Manage Interfaces
As Systems Engineers we’re often jacks of all trades, and it’s important that we know our technical expertise has limits. As individuals, we just can’t be masters of every science, so we have natural boundaries to our knowledge. In complex inter-disciplinary products, such as spacecraft, managing technical interfaces is paramount to the success of the mission and achieving our goal. 

 

6. Track Progress Against a Plan

All of our projects are held to account by our project managers and their abilities to plan, monitor and adjust the plan in response to key indicators. At AEON we go a step beyond, having a closer integration (some would say overlap) between technical and project management. This means we proactively look to understand each project’s demands such as the necessary skills, training and competency of the project team as well as the adequacy of their tools, communication and logistics.

Consider the Big Picture

Think about what happens when someone texts you that meme everyone’s been talking about? The system isn’t just confined to your friend’s phone, it uses hardware and software to define, transmit and display the message, crossing from a smart phone, to a mast, data switches, the internet, another phone mast and finally on to your phone, that uses the right app to load the image, which is then illuminated by the pixels on the screen! If we didn’t manage the interface, none of this would be possible.

 

What’s important is that this doesn’t just stop at mobile phones or software. At AEON, we work with the Big Picture, making sure that the constituent parts of the system, and all of its dependencies, work together to create the right operational environment, so that the combined system is effective at delivering on our intended needs and fulfilling the technical requirement specifications.

 

More than 1 in 3 of all projects will fail; more than 2 out of 3 will not achieve all of their aims. Project management isn’t there to just ensure that project costs and timescales are maintained, it is also there to assure the successful delivery of the system, exactly as it is described in the technical requirement specifications.

 

AEON are proud members of INCOSE.

 

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