Managing and Engineering Complex Technological Systems - Avigdor Zonnenshain - E-Book

Managing and Engineering Complex Technological Systems E-Book

Avigdor Zonnenshain

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Presents the origins and evolution of the systems engineeringdiscipline and helps readers gain a personal familiarity withsystems engineering experts: their experience, opinions andattitudes in this field This book is based on a qualitative study that includes dozensof in-depth interviews with experts in the systems engineeringfield. This book is broken into three main parts. The first part isa general overview of the systems engineering field. The secondpart discusses the changes the systems engineering discipline hasundergone with the analysis as case studies of two significantIsraeli defence systems projects: the IAI Lavi project and the IronDome project. The third part of this book contains interviews with renownedexperts in the systems engineering field. This part is divided intofive sections: systems engineering as the answer to the challengesof a complex technological world - the aerospace industries;the development of systems engineering in the commercial andindustrial worlds, and in complex civil systems; the impact of theaccelerated development of the computing world on systemsengineering processes; systems engineering and the academic world;and systems engineering in the world of training and consulting. This book presents the main insights derived from the interviews,and an analysis and discussion of the question of the relevance ofsystems engineering to the management world. Some highlights ofthis book are that it * Integrates the technological aspects with the behaviouralaspects of the field * Serves managerial needs of engineering and management ingeneral, so managers with no technical background can deriveknowledge from this book * Provides approaches for seeing beyond technology-understandingthe mission Managing and Engineering Complex Technological Systems isa great resource on management for managers as well as systemsengineers.

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Table of Contents


Title Page



Words From Incose President

Words from the Head of the Bernard M. Gordon Center for Systems Engineering, Technion

Words from the President of the Israeli Association for Systems Engineering-Incose_IL

Words from the Writers


Systems Engineering – A Discipline in the Making

List of Interviewees (Alphabetical Order)

Part I: Systems Engineering – A General Overview

Chapter 1.1: The Origins, History, and Uniqueness of Systems Engineering

1.1.1 On The Essence of Systems Engineering

1.1.2 The Different Types of Systems Engineering

Chapter 1.2: A Multidisciplinary, Systemic View

1.2.1 The Boundaries of a System

1.2.2 Systems of Systems

1.2.3 Managing the Human Factor

1.2.4 Traits Derived From an Interdisciplinary, Systemic View

Chapter 1.3: The Systems Engineer as Manager and Leader

1.3.1 Systems Engineering and Technological Project Management

Chapter 1.4: The Evolution of a Systems Engineer

1.4.1 The Main Paths of Development of Systems Engineers

1.4.2 The Evolution of Software Engineers Into Systems Engineers

1.4.3 The Training of Systems Engineers

Chapter 1.5: Systems Engineering in Various Organizations

1.5.1 Who is a Systems Engineer? – A Question of Terminology

Chapter 1.6: The Future of Systems Engineering

Part II: A World of Complex Projects – then and Now

Chapter 2.1: The IAI LAVI Project – The Dream and Downfall

2.1.1 The Feasibility Study

2.1.2 The Project

2.1.3 The End of the Project and Further Insights

Chapter 2.2: The Iron Dome Project – Development Under Fire

2.2.1 Background and Preparations

2.2.2 The Management of the Project

Part III: The Interviews

Chapter 3.1: Developments in a Complex, Technological World – The Aviation and Space Industries

3.1.1 “Structured, Multidisciplinary Methods of Resolving Lateral Problems”

3.1.2 “Planning Systems That Fit The Needs of Both Clients and Users”

3.1.3 “Seeing Beyond Technology – Understanding The Mission”

3.1.4 “Simplification Capabilities in a Complex Environment”

3.1.5 “Complex Mega-Systems That Cannot Be Supervised”

Chapter 3.2: Developments in Industry and Commerce and in Complex Civilian Systems

3.2.1 “The Ability to Identify Bottlenecks and Eliminate Them”

3.2.2 “Well-Organized Work is Always Needed; The Problem is People Don't Always Want to Make The Effort”

3.2.3 “Management-Oriented Systems Engineers Also See The Business Aspects”

3.2.4 “Optimization by the Top Ranks”

Chapter 3.3: The Influence of the Accelerated Progress in the Computing World

3.3.1 “When a Critical Mass of Processes and Methods is Formed, A New Profession is Born”

3.3.2 “Looking at a Problem From Different Angles”

3.3.3 “Venturing Beyond The Core-Subjects to Study New Areas”

3.3.4 “The Abstract Level of Discussion is of Great Value”

Chapter 3.4: Systems Engineering and Academia

3.4.1 “Applying Holistic Thinking”

3.4.2 “A Powerful Natural Curiosity and an Ability to Truly Like People”

3.4.3 “Expanding the Boundaries of the System”

3.4.4 “A Profession Meant to Serve the Needs of the Industry”

Chapter 3.5: Systems Engineering in the World of Training and Consulting

3.5.1 “Combining Engineering and Management Skills”

3.5.2 “Model-Based Systems Engineering”

3.5.3 “The Main Requirement: Keeping Up With Schedules”


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Table of Contents


Part I: Systems Engineering – A General Overview


List of Illustrations

List of Tables

Managing and Engineering Complex Technological Systems

Avigdor Zonnenshain and Shuki Stauber


The Gordon Center for Systems Engineering, Technion, Haifa, Israel



Copyright © 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved

Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey

Published simultaneously in Canada

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Zonnenshain, Avigdor.

Managing and engineering complex technological systems / Avigdor Zonnenshain, Shuki Stauber.

pages cm

Includes index.

Summary: “This book is based on a qualitative study that includes dozens of in-depth interviews with experts in the systems engineering field”–Provided by publisher.

ISBN 978-1-119-06859-4 (hardback)

1. Systems engineering. 2. Industrial management. I. Stauber, Shuki. II. Title.

TA168.Z66 2015




To my beloved wife, Michaela, for her love, friendship, and continuous support


To Yaron and Sharona, my lovely offspring

Think before act, do not spare planning


Words From Incose President

Dear Systems Engineers,

I am proud to be a systems engineer.

Systems engineers have an important role in developing systems for the benefit of mankind and the world.

The study on Systems Engineering has Many Facets, which is documented in this book, is very important for the Systems Engineering community, as it presents for the first time different views and various aspects of systems engineering as expressed by 24 experts who have been interviewed for this research. These experts come from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds.

This study is a great asset for INCOSE as a training material and as a promotional document for the systems engineering community as it presents the diverse, rich, and colorful roles of the systems engineer.

I am proud to be part of this effort as one of the experts to be interviewed. It gave me the opportunity to communicate my views and vision on the important values of the systems engineer.

I congratulate the leaders of this initiative – Shuki and Avigdor, and I express my thanks to the Gordon Center for supporting this study.

John A. Thomas, ESEPINCOSE President(2012–2013)

Words from the Head of the Bernard M. Gordon Center for Systems Engineering, Technion

In the early days of my term as dean of the Technion's Aerospace Engineering Faculty (1995–1998), I received a request from the industry to devise an academic program that taught systems engineering. Until that time, academic activity in systems engineering in Israel was fairly limited and spread out among different academic units of the Technion and other institutions. The fact that the industry officials had chosen the Dean of the Aeronautics and Space Faculty was no coincidence. Globally, systems engineering activity originated in the aerospace and defense industries. Being aware of the importance of this subject, and of the Technion's historical role as the promoter of engineering knowledge and achievement in Israel, I accepted the request without hesitation. The multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary nature of systems engineering made it clear that the program had to be an inter-faculty program – with more than one academic unit involved. Indeed, since its founding, the program has been managed by a committee of representatives from several different faculties. Moreover, I recognized that systems engineering was a field that, probably more than any other, had close ties to the industry. In light of this, the committee founded to determine the objectives and character of the studies included high-ranking industry representatives, in addition to its traditional academician members. The plan devised by the committee, even in its early versions, was for the program to grant its graduates a master's degree. Candidates had to have a bachelor's degree and a certain minimum of professional experience in their field of expertise, before they were even considered for the program.

After its launch, the program received a lot of interest, and demand was much higher than we had expected. Today, less than 15 years since, the program boasts over 1000 graduates and students. The systems engineers trained by it are spread out throughout the Israeli defense and civilian industries, offices, and organizations. They have tremendous influence on the integration of systems engineering procedures and systems thinking in Israel. One would be hard-pressed to find a major project in Israel that does not have graduates of the program among its teams, many of them occupying high ranking positions.

A considerable boost to systems engineering in the Technion and in the whole of Israel was brought on by the establishment of the Bernard M. Gordon Center for Systems Engineering. The center was founded thanks to the help and generous contribution of Dr. Gordon, a highly accomplished engineer from the United States, who recognized the importance of this cause. The center has allowed us to deepen the ties between the industry and the academy, and to begin research in systems engineering, some of it in close collaboration with the industry. Additionally, the center organizes conferences and seminars, invites foreign experts to hold lectures and workshops, and encourages the Israeli technological community to adopt modern systems engineering methodologies. Although, in recent years, awareness of the benefits of systems engineering has given it a firmer grasp in ever-growing parts of the industry, there are still engineering fields where it is virtually nonexistent. In light of this, the Gordon center believed it very important to perform the study that eventually led to the writing of this book. I believe that this book, based on interviews with local and foreign systems engineering experts, presents a broad view of the systems engineering field, the challenges it is facing, its contributions, its benefits, and the challenge it sets before those who wish to embed it into their industries and organizations.

Systems engineering has brought valuable insights on analyzing and optimizing the workings of complex, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary systems, which can and should have an impact beyond the boundaries of the technological world. Health-care systems, social systems, and many other systems can benefit from adopting the methodologies systems engineering has developed. This is why it is so very important for those who are not involved with engineering or technology to be aware of and have access to systems engineering methodologies. With this end-goal in mind, the authors of this book have succeeded in presenting a picture that can be grasped by readers with no special technological background.

I would like to thank all the interviewees who have taken the time to participate in the interviews and helped put them in writing. I am grateful to Dr. Avigdor Zonnenshain and Mr. Shuki Stauber for their dedication to the writing of this book and for the great effort they have invested in it. I hope you find this book enjoyable, and I believe it will help spread the awareness of the many benefits of systems engineering. I hope this book will encourage its readers to use modern insights, knowledge, and tools to make better systems.

Prof. Aviv RosenHead of the Bernard M. Gordon Center for Systems Engineering,Technion – IIT, Haifa

Words from the President of the Israeli Association for Systems Engineering-Incose_IL

Those who practice systems engineering have always intuitively known the right way to work on systems projects, but, until now, there was not enough quantitative data to support this perception. In recent years, studies have shown significant high correlations between investment in systems engineering (as part of a project's total cost) and project success, measured by meeting planned performance, budget, and schedule. High correlation was also found between the project's chief systems engineer's management and technological leadership abilities and the project's success.

It appears that the previous dilemma of whether to invest in systems engineering has now been resolved. Israel's defense industry and government organizations, the birthplaces of Israeli systems engineering, have long since understood this, and, in recent years, we have been witnessing the introduction of systems engineering approaches and processes into small- and medium-sized “civilian” enterprises as well.

Here, in the Israeli Society for Systems Engineering, we are convinced that in Israel, of all places, systems engineering should be treated as a strategic asset and as a discipline in which we hold a major relative advantage. For this reason, we decided that alongside strengthening systems engineering in defense organizations, and tightening the cooperation between industry, government, and academia, we should also act to assimilate the huge body of knowledge accumulated on the subject to all of Israeli industry. We intend to achieve this by research, education, and activities aimed at sharing knowledge of systems engineering.

This book fits in well with these objectives. It provides an exciting opportunity to experience a close encounter with a vast pool of knowledge and insights of 22 systems engineering experts.

The editors of this book are two leading experts: Dr. Avigdor Zonnenshain, a senior, experienced systems engineer, who recently retired from his position at Rafael and currently works at the Technion's Gordon Center for Systems Engineering, and Shuki Stauber, a reputable expert on management and author of numerous management books.

On behalf of the Israeli Society for Systems Engineering, I would like to thank them for their valuable contribution to the advancement of systems engineering in Israel.

Best regards,Professor Moti Frank,President of the Israeli Association for Systems Engineering – INCOSE_IL(2013–2014)

Words from the Writers

Systems Engineering is a dynamic discipline that changes and evolves constantly, adapting to the changes in its working environment. It is affected by factors like technological change, developments of interfaced disciplines, research findings, and lessons learned from experience in the industry, to name only a few.

In the 40 or so years of my career, I, too, have personally experienced various aspects of and perspectives on systems engineering and the applications of systemic approaches in the industry and academia. I have applied a holistic, systemic approach to a number of fields, including: systems safety and reliability, systems experiments, integrated logistic support, total quality management and engineering, management and development of systemic-technological projects, and corporate social responsibility.

These are the thoughts and experiences that led me to the idea of a qualitative study of the various aspects of systems engineering, carried out in the form of interviews with local and international systems engineering experts. To ensure the high level and professionalism of the interviews and writing, we employed the services of Shuki Stauber, a professional interviewer and writer, who specializes in management.

The interviews in this book will help the readers learn about the origins and evolution of the systems engineering discipline and gain a personal familiarity with systems engineering experts: their experience, opinions, and attitudes in this field. For this reason, we chose to call this study “The Many Faces of Systems Engineering.” We sought answers to the questions: What are the different aspects of systems engineering? What different perspectives will the experts interviewed in this framework have to offer?

We approached over 20 experts, both locally and worldwide, representing a wide spectrum of occupations and experiences, both in the industry and in academia. All experts responded to our request and agreed to participate in the study with great enthusiasm, presenting us with clear, detailed accounts of their experiences and opinions on this study's areas of interest, including answers to questions such as: How does systems engineering handle technological complexity and the ever-changing needs of the clients? How is systems engineering actually implemented in various projects and organizations? How does the systems engineer serve as both manager and leader? All the experts we approached applauded the initiative, were glad of the opportunity to present their approaches, and showed great appreciation for the possibility that their opinions shall be banded together and included in a book that would summarize the findings of the study.

It should be noted that my personal acquaintance with dozens of systems engineering experts in Israel and worldwide has helped us recruit this study's participants. In fact, we have yet to hear a single refusal…

This study has also helped me achieve some historical closures, one of them being my meeting with President of Lockheed Martin, Norman Augustine, whose acquaintance I had had the pleasure of making back at Martin Marietta, when he, as its president, had been navigating the collaboration with Rafael, and I had been a member of the team that facilitated its establishment. Back then, he had been the object of my admiration, and now, I have had the privilege of meeting him and interviewing him for this study.

The choice to recruit Shuki Stauber, a professional writer and interviewer specializing in management fields, to help carry out this study, was both conscious and educated. We wanted the interviews to be very professional and the writing of their summaries to be accessible to all. This meant that readers from outside the systems engineering community should be able to read and understand the findings and insights contained herein and even apply them to their respective occupational areas. It is my opinion that the “gamble” of recruiting Shuki has paid off beyond our wildest expectations: Shuki listened to and learned the various aspects of systems engineering and has managed to put the findings into words that anyone would be able to understand. I can say without hyperbole that Shuki Stauber is the best systems engineer among all the authors of management books in Israel.

I would like to thank the head of The Gordon Center for Systems Engineering at The Israel Institute of Technology (Technion), Professor Aviv Rosen, for bravely taking up the gauntlet I had tossed his way, in the form of this extensive study. Professor Aviv Rosen handled the financing of the study, directed its movements, and actively participated in most of the interviews. His professional contribution to this study is nothing short of priceless.

I hope that you find this book interesting and enjoyable.

Dr. Avigdor Zonnenshain

When Dr. Avigdor Zonnenshain first approached me and suggested that we coauthor a book on systems engineering, I was not even familiar with the term. Neither “engineering” nor “systems” sounded like exciting words to me. However, after he had explained what it was all about, I found the subject interesting, special, and innovative.

I had hardly had any previous contact with technological fields. I acquired my basic education in the Faculty of Social Sciences, specializing in “soft” areas, centered on human skills. As a management expert, my professional writing focused on connections between people, human abilities, and the organizational world.

I suddenly discovered that engineers, pure technologists, are beginning to understand that technology does not exist in a vacuum; that it is meant to serve people. In the words of Professor Aviv Rosen, an aeronautical engineer and currently the head of The Gordon Center for Systems Engineering at The Israel Institute of Technology (Technion), which provided the framework for the study this book is based on: “I came from the world of exact science, and I have come to see that in many cases, the ‘soft’ sciences are no less important than the technology itself. There is always a client at the end of the road, and the user's psychology must be taken into account.”

Commonly attributed to Plato, the proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” is very relevant to systems engineering, a field that emerged from the need to deal with the increasing complexity of technological systems. I have found that methodologies developed in order to cope with technological-systemic constraints can also serve managers, whose very nature is to handle managerial-systemic constraints. One way or the other, the gap between these two worlds, the technological and the human, is closing – everything connects to everything else, as we head toward the formation of supersystems, combining technology and people together.

Indeed, while working on the book, I have found excellent tools that can serve not only the managerial needs of engineering but also all the worlds of management in general. This book is, therefore, a book on management for all intents and purposes. It is intended for managers as well as systems engineers, in equal measure. It has been written in this form, so that managers with no technological background can derive valuable knowledge from it too.

Finally, I wish to express my sincere thanks to my two colleagues, Professor Aviv Rosen and Dr. Avigdor Zonnenshain, who have given me the opportunity to be a part of an exciting process of learning and creation. Besides being first-class professionals, their extensive intellectual abilities are combined with kindness and good-naturedness – a wonderful mix that has made working with them an extraordinary experience.

Shuki Stauber


Systems Engineering – A Discipline in the Making

A discipline in the making, systems engineering connects classical engineering with organizational and managerial systems. It is, therefore, not surprising that one of the main skill sets required of a systems engineer (and its importance increases as the engineer's career progresses) is that of leadership skills. This fact stands in contrast with systems engineering being, at its core, an engineering discipline, practiced by engineers.

In the past, there had been a clearer distinction between professional engineers, skilled in their fields (for instance, electronic engineers, mechanical engineers, or computer engineers) and integration and management people, who brought together the technological systems developed by the engineers. But the ever-accelerating technological developments and globalization created a situation, where this separation delayed processes and compromised the development abilities and, consecutively, competitiveness of those organizations that unconsciously kept sanctifying the distinction between these two overarching areas.

For example, in the past, an engineer could demand to go back and perform countless tests in order to achieve technological perfection. But today, he must take into account such considerations as resource availability and scheduling. He can no longer act based on “pure” engineering considerations. Being forced to face other, systemic constraints, as well as the “traditional” challenges of his occupation means he must now think like a systems engineer.

Not all engineers have to undergo this transformation. Many want to continue to focus exclusively on their professional area of expertise. Some, however, wish to use the engineering analysis tools they had acquired (both in their academic studies and during their work) not only to develop a sophisticated electronic circuit, an advanced machine, or a complex piece of software, but also to “engineer” an entire system that enfolds not only technology, but other components as well, including economic constraints, human factors, and commercial and marketing considerations – these are the systems engineers.

Systems engineers adopt managerial thought patterns, because technology can no longer be kept separate from the wider context it exists in. They gravitate towards systems that rely heavily on technology, where they are best able to utilize their relative advantage: they enhance their managerial thought using the engineering analysis tools they had acquired. This is why so many systems engineers can be found in organizations that develop aircraft or advanced weapon systems, while very few (if any) work for financial institutions or retail networks.

This book attempts to open a window into the world of systems engineers, allowing the readers to learn from the accumulated experience of the people interviewed for the study and perhaps help them adopt new thought patterns and methods of conduct, suitable to each reader's area of activity. After all, system engineering is, by its very nature, a discipline that traverses the gaps between other disciplines, and so, its methodologies can serve a wide variety of experts from the worlds of management and engineering – from the production manager, wishing to improve his production line; to the medical doctor, developing a new type of syringe; the architect, designing a complex of buildings; and, finally, to the head of a government office, formulating a multiannual plan.

On the structure of this book:

Managing and Engineering Complex Technological Systems is based on a qualitative study that included, at its core, dozens of in-depth interviews with prominent experts in the field. We have conversed with lead systems engineers, high-ranking executives, academic experts, and experienced consultants. Roughly one half of the study's participants are Israelis, with the other half hailing from a multitude of other countries. We felt it was important to present a wide spectrum of perspectives on this field, as it pertains to the different features of various industries and organizations.

The first part of the book is a general overview of the systems engineering field. It includes its origins and the history of its emergence, its main characteristics, and the directions of its evolution. This overview is based on a series of interviews with the experts and the insights derived from the discussions with them.

Systems engineering grew out of needs that had arisen in complex technological projects, and it maintains a heavy presence in these frameworks to this day. We demonstrate this in the second part of the book, where we discuss two significant Israeli defense system projects. The first is the IAI Lavi project, launched over 30 years ago and never completed; the second is The Iron Dome project, completed successfully and highly acclaimed by the media. The comparison between the conduct of these two projects is very informative, especially when it comes to systems engineering, seeing as, among other things, it illustrates the substantial changes the discipline had undergone during the years that passed between the two projects.

The third, and final, part of the book contains the detailed interviews themselves. It includes rich, detailed information that relies on the knowledge and years of experience accumulated by the people we met with. These chapters are divided into five sections:

 Systems engineering as the answer to the challenges of a complex technological world – the aerospace industries;

 The development of systems engineering in the commercial and industrial worlds, and in complex civil systems;

 The impact of the accelerated development of the computing world on systems engineering processes;

 Systems engineering and the academic world;

 Systems engineering in the world of training and consulting.

Finally, we would like to thank all the experts who contributed to this book, shared their wisdom and knowledge, and gave us their time. Their names and professional backgrounds are listed in the acknowledgements section, on the next page.


List of Interviewees (Alphabetical Order)


Chief Systems Engineer at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.

Yossi Ackerman

President and CEO of Elbit Systems Ltd. (1996–2013).

Norman Augustine

President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Lockheed Martin (1987–1997); has since served as the chairman of several presidential and national committees, including US Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel for the assessment of the United States' activities in the South Pole.

Henry Broodney

Head of the Systems Engineering Technologies Group at the IBM Research Lab in Haifa.

Boaz Dovrin

Project manager at Luminis; formerly systems engineer and technical manager at Elbit Systems and Philips Medical Systems.

Sanford (Sandy) Friedenthal

International expert, lecturer, and consultant on model-based systems engineering (MBSE); formerly a Lockheed Martin Fellow.

Dr. Gilead Fortuna

Senior Research Fellow, head of the project “Israel 2028 – Vision and Strategy for Israel” at The Samuel Neaman Institute (since 2009); formerly Senior Vice President at Raphael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

Alon Gazit

Director of R&D;

Benjamin (Benjie) Rom

, Head of Product Development;

Erez Heisdorf

, Head of Eilat Program – HP Indigo

Dr. Ovadia Harari

Head of the Lavi Project (1980–1988), Vice President of Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd. (until 2006), winner of the Israel Defense Prize for the years 1973 and 1969, winner of The Israel Prize for Technology and Engineering for the year 1987.

Dr. Cecilia Haskins

Associate Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), ESEP, and member of the INCOSE Board of Directors.

Dr. Eric Honour

International expert, consultant, researcher, and teacher of systems engineering.

Prof. Joseph Kasser

International expert, lecturer, and researcher on systems engineering; currently, a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Harold (Bud) Lawson

International expert, researcher, lecturer, and consultant on Systems Thinking, Systems Engineering, and Software Engineering; Professor Emeritus of telecommunications and computer systems at the Linkoping University, Sweden.

Niels Malotaux

International consultant, specializing in helping projects and organizations.

Dr. Jacob (Kobi) Reiner

Chief Systems Engineer at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.

Prof. Aviv Rosen

Faculty member at The Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Israel Institute of Technology (Technion), initiator and current head of the Technion's Systems Engineering ME program, also, currently, the head of The Technion's Gordon Center for Systems Engineering.

Sharon Shoshany Tavory

Systems engineering consultant, researcher at Gordon Center for Systems Engineering; formerly Head of Administration and Chief Systems Engineer at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.

Hillary Sillitto

Systems Engineering Director and Thales Fellow, Thales, UK.

John Thomas

President of the International Council on Systems Engineering – INCOSE – (2012–2014), Senior Vice President and Chief Systems Engineer at Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm.

Miriam (Mimi) Timnat

Senior Systems Engineer, Head of Process Improvement in Systems Engineering and Technical Management at Elbit Systems.

Prof. Olivier de Weck

Faculty member of the Engineering Systems Division at MIT, editor-in-chief of the journal

Systems Engineering

; formerly, an officer in the Swiss Air Force.

Dr. Amir Ziv-Av

Chief Scientist at The Ministry of Transportation (2011–2013), founder and owner of an engineering-technological company.

Part ISystems Engineering – A General Overview

Chapter 1.1

The Origins, History, and Uniqueness of Systems Engineering

For many decades, each of the industries that relied heavily on engineering, such as electronics, mechanics, and chemistry, had its own unique discipline. The engineers of each discipline evolved and gained experience in their respective specializations. But, in the early 1970s, the need arose to integrate the various engineering fields and even bridge the gap between engineering, as a whole, and nonengineering systems.

This phenomenon has its source in two opposing trends: on the one hand, engineering disciplines were becoming more and more specialized; and on the other hand, the need for multidisciplinary skills was on the rise.

Clarification: technological developments led to an increase in specialization and created a need for more and more specialists in subdisciplines of engineering. Today, for instance, an electronics engineer would not be considered an expert in electronics, but rather in one of its more specific subdisciplines, such as communications or control systems. Therefore, in order to create an electronic system, one now needs to integrate these subdisciplines. On the other side of the spectrum, the technological capability of manufacturing complex products for the end user's benefit raised the importance of integration between the overarching engineering disciplines, such as mechanics, electronics, or materials engineering, as well. At the same time, the systemic complexity of developed systems began to increase too.

This need gained much momentum from the development of the software and software engineering fields. Software allows for the creation of complex systems and is, in many cases, the central factor that facilitates the combination of subsystems from various disciplines.

In the words of Eric Honour, who believes that the evolution of systems engineering in the 1980s received a substantial booster shot from the breakthrough in the software field that took place during those years: “In the late 1980s, the industry was faced with a major problem: many software failures were discovered, because software personnel had not received the information they needed, at the quality they required. They began looking at ways of receiving better requirement specifications, and that put systems engineering back into people's minds.”

We can assume that one of the main reasons for the emergence of systems engineering is the development of technological abilities that, with the help of software, allowed for the creation of technological systems of ever-increasing complexity. This phenomenon created the need for a technological position holder, charged with the task of integrating the subsystems that form the complex, overarching system.

Technological systems are an integral part of the modern world. They provide us with a variety of services, and play a part in larger and larger systems, some of which contain nontechnological components as well. This process leads to the creation of supersystems, which can no longer be effectively controlled, because they are entwined with human systems, among other reasons.

These needs and constraints greatly increased the need for the formulation of an orderly, methodological, systematic approach to the management of complex engineering systems. The importance of early planning rose greatly, as did the need for skills that focus on areas other than “pure” engineering. Hence, the technological industry began to understand the increasing need for engineers who followed a predetermined, orderly, controlled, and supervised methodology: a methodology that would allow them to design holistically and facilitate educated integration processes, while minimizing the ever-present, ever-increasing risk of failure. Failures were brought on by loss of control over large, complex systems, exposed to a wide variety of constraints, some of which were organic and process-related, rather than pertaining to engineering.

On top of these, came the financial component: as aforesaid, the ever-increasing engineering capabilities opened the possibility of developing more and more sophisticated products. As engineering projects grew in scope and complexity, so did their financial costs. Uncertainty levels rose. Complicated projects failed to meet deadlines, went over-budget and even got canceled (a prominent example of this is Israel's Lavi project, which we discuss later in this book).

These trends brought about significant changes in the way large engineering projects (wherein, as aforesaid, the use of systems engineering is especially important) were approached. For instance, in the past, governments used to allocate nearly unlimited resources to the development of complex defense products, such as fighter planes. Today, the costs of these products are so high, that no government can reasonably afford to invest in this area without strict budget limitations and control. Before the late 1970s, most defense projects were managed using cost-plus pricing strategy, while today, most projects operate on a rigid, given budget and are hardly ever allowed to deviate from it. This led to the emergence of yet another fundamental constraint that forced engineers to consider nonengineering factors, especially when planning and developing complex engineering products. It should, however, be noted that the adoption of work methods that rely on a predetermined budget was no magic cure-all, and today's large, complex projects still fail to meet deadlines and stay within their budgets.

Our choice to bring the development of a fighter aircraft as an example of a complex engineering project was not incidental. Some say that aeronautics may be the most complex technological field of all (due to the need to control a large, complex, man-carrying, airborne vehicle). This is what caused systems engineering to evolve in this technological area, first. Moreover, many aeronautics experts contend that they have always been employing the principles of this approach; only back then, they did not refer to it as “systems engineering.” As the need for systems engineering became more urgent and began to seep into other industries, it slowly gained recognition as an independent discipline – one worthy of its own, separate training program and career development paths.

1.1.1 On The Essence of Systems Engineering

Being a discipline in the making, there is, as yet, no consensus on the character and operational frameworks of systems engineering. The interviews in this book show a myriad of perspectives regarding not only the nature of this profession, but also the question of whether it is indeed just that – a profession.

Yossi Ackerman says that a systems engineer is a vague term that defies definition, and he is glad for it. This is because, according to him, this vagueness creates a flexibility that allows the job to be adjusted to suit the circumstances. Ackerman sees systems engineers as “managers, who are engineers by profession, but are able to see the whole technical, technological picture.” The more senior the engineer, the more management-oriented his job becomes.

Many experts find that systems engineering is more than a job, it is also a collection of thought and work patterns. Thus, for instance, Mimi Timnat finds that “to a great extent, systems engineering is more than just a job. It is an approach to handling and solving problems, and not only work-related ones. It encourages one to look at a problem from different angles, to ask questions and try to gain a better understanding of the problem, before making decisions and formulating solutions.” Dr. Cecilia Haskins goes even farther, believing that a systems engineer does not have to be an engineer at all, and the word “engineering” may have been wrongfully applied to this term. According to her, the important component is the “systematism” – the ability to see the whole picture and perform the necessary actions methodically. In her perspective, systems engineering is a combination of discipline, worldview, and profession that suggests ways of solving problems.

Niels Malotaux expands on this issue: “All engineers must be capable of systems thinking. There is no point in completing part of a system, if it doesn't work together with the other parts. I do not view myself as a systems engineer, although I meet the definition of one. The principles of systems engineers lie at the heart of all engineering disciplines, and all engineers should be able to find an optimal compromise between opposing requirements. ‘Systems engineering’ is a label applied to all the things engineers have to do, in order to create a good system.”

1.1.2 The Different Types of Systems Engineering

Even the most enthusiastic supporters of systems engineers do not think there is such a thing as a “pure” systems engineer. They believe systems engineers are engineers who have gained knowledge and experience in one of the classic engineering disciplines and, being people who possess certain skills and character traits, were able to grow into systems engineers. This professional growth pattern is commonly illustrated using a T model. This model, named for its shape, which resembles the letter “T,” places basic training in a concrete engineering field on the vertical axis, and the lateral, multidisciplinary view of the systems engineer, on the horizontal axis.

This perspective suggests that academic programs that train systems engineers have to be for a master's, rather than a bachelor's, degree, and in order to be accepted, applicants would have to possess an engineering degree in one of the fundamental areas of engineering, as well as some hands-on experience working as an engineer is recommended.

Tendencies toward systems engineering are more common among engineers, whose areas of technological expertise frequently involve the tasks of examining alternatives and facilitating integration. Aeronautical engineers, whom we have previously mentioned in this context, fit this pattern well. Electronics engineers also have similar traits.

Systems engineering also has some managerial traits, which we will discuss in detail later in this book (see Chapter E), and just as there are different types of managers, there are also different types of systems engineers. Two super types prominently figured in the interviews we had performed, their identity derived from the fundamental essence of systems engineering, as a method that allows its practitioners to analyze a system to its smallest details, and then design it to suit the client's needs.

This process is commonly illustrated using a “V” shaped graph, where the horizontal axis is time, and the vertical axis is the level of detail. The first step of developing a system is to define the needs of the client. This is represented by the highest point on the V's left branch. Next, begins the process of generally designing the system as a whole, and delving into the details of its subsystems, which should provide concrete answers to the previously defined needs. This “descent” to the lowest point of the V reaches the characterization of the subsystems' most basic components, an activity that focuses on system analysis. From here on out, we begin to “ascend” the right branch of the V. This includes the product development and testing processes, all the way to completion. This activity is known as system synthesis.

The analysis and synthesis are based on different action patterns that require the use of different skills. Analytic systems engineers are tasked with development, design, and architecture, while synthetic systems engineers focus on implementation and integration.

Prof. Aviv Rosen explains: “Analysis is associated with the world of research, and its products are usually models for understanding various phenomena. Innovations often begin with analysis. Conversely, synthesis is the ability to bring components together and produce an engineering product. This is usually done by the industry. Synthesis is considered to be of a more routine nature, and was therefore perceived as inferior to analysis by the academy for many years. Research was thought of as a more lucrative practice, as it offered the possibility of discovering new things and publishing one's findings in scientific magazines. But times have changed, and the importance of synthesis has slowly increased in many engineering fields. Consequently, the rate of appearance of major technological innovations in these fields has diminished.”

Henry Broodney also distinguishes between two types of systems engineering: he defines the first type as systems engineering that deals with planning and the process of designing the system itself. It focuses on what the project's lead systems engineer does, and Broodney refers to it as Technical Systems Engineering. The second type of systems engineering includes processes and work methods for managing engineering projects that combine scope, scheduling, and finances. The focus is on the actions of the project manager – on managing the system. This, he calls Management-Oriented Systems Engineering.

These two broad classifications are likely to include various systems engineering “subdisciplines,” certainly in more complex projects. For instance, technical systems engineering includes systems engineers tasked with developing a certain component that pertains to a field of engineering they are well-versed in (e.g., a systems engineer trained in electronics engineering, in charge of developing an electro-optical component), and systems engineers tasked with integrating components from various disciplines, in the process of creating a comprehensive technological system that meets the client's needs. For example, The Iron Dome project employed systems engineers from all areas, including software, electronics, and mechanics, who worked alongside two systems engineers who coordinated all technological activity, within the framework of what AA referred to as “Lateral Systems Engineering.” These two were interdisciplinary systems engineers, while the other systems engineers in the project worked within the boundaries of their specializations.

Chapter 1.2

A Multidisciplinary, Systemic View

In the previous chapter, we discussed the trends that led to the increase in the need for systems engineering, namely: the ever-growing complexity of technological systems, alongside the ever-increasing demand for appropriate solutions for the needs of the clients – the buyers and users of the systems (the two are not always the same). This combination compels engineering teams charged with the development of technological products to account for nontechnological constraints, related to finances and management. Therefore, the systems engineer who manages these teams should be willing to engage in areas beyond his formal engineering training, in the desire to meet the clients' needs, by exposing himself to broader technological fields, while handling managerial and organizational issues.

On the increasing complexity of systems:

The continuous accumulation of knowledge allows for the creation of advanced systems that are, naturally, also very complex. It is a well-established fact that the more complex the system, the higher the risk of it being prone to faults and difficult to operate. It follows that one of the main challenges is creating a product that is as technologically advanced and, at the same time, as simple as it can be. This increases the need for strong simplification capabilities alongside efficient examination of alternatives.

The Iron Dome developers attested to this: “We could have gotten a more complex ‘servo’ in one round of development. To reach a ‘servo’ that simple required more thought and more talent. Finding a complicated solution is fairly easy. To find a simple solution, you need to start thinking.”

On the increasing importance attributed to clients' needs:

The last few decades are characterized by the increasing power of clients everywhere: from fashion retail to education and healthcare services. This trend did not skip the technological world, where, often, the client's representatives are no less competent than the developers they meet with. Clients' control systems for complex technological products have grown tremendously, and their involvement in all stages of product development has increased. The need to account for the clients' needs and demands has become paramount. Among other factors, this trend is the result of the changes in budgeting methods, as clients are now much less lenient when it comes to deviating from predetermined financial frameworks, and so grew the demand for engineers who knew how to handle themselves with the clients' representatives, who were able to negotiate with the clients and speak their language.

In many cases, clients see themselves as the ones making the demands, and the developers as the ones tasked with meeting them. This pattern of conduct tends to have a negative impact on the work rate and even on the quality of the final product. Today, the world is beginning to realize that this fine weave of relations has to be handled wisely and with care, which brings us back to The Iron Dome Project, whose developers stated that in their case, “The client almost merged with the project. This does not go without saying, and there are those who even criticize it, saying that perhaps it is best for the client to keep his distance, so that he may represent the other side, and maintain his ability to provide objective feedback. In The Iron Dome Project, however, it worked very well, because of the client's representatives' ability to successfully maintain their independent thought.”

1.2.1 The Boundaries of a System

One of the major dilemmas encountered by all who practice systems engineering, including the systems engineers themselves, is the question of defining a system's boundaries. Thus, for instance, one might decide that the boundaries of a system are the client's technological requirements of the project. But one might also decide to include the technological system's impact on the environment. Naturally, such decisions can radically change the design and character of the system.

Expanding the boundaries of a system also reveals context that cannot always be seen from within the system's original boundaries.

Prof. Olivier De Weck: “We design a system with certain boundaries and see no correlation between A and B, but if we expand the boundaries, we can suddenly see a correlation (or synchronization) outside the original system. Seeing this correlation has a profound effect on how the inside of the system is designed. For this, the concept must be modeled in greater detail.”

Prof. Joe Kasser stresses this as well: “Defining the boundaries of the system is critical. For one person, the system is the car; for another, it is the car and its passengers; for a third person, all the cars on the road are the system. The engine is also a system. This is where systematic thinking is needed.”

1.2.2 Systems of Systems

Olivier De Weck says that “traditional systems engineering had always been inward focused. It made sure all the system's components (the components, the processes, the subsystems) worked together to produce the system's end products and satisfy the requirements set forth by the client. Systems engineering never gave much importance to what lay outside the system. Today, many systems are starting to turn into ‘systems of systems’. They become very large and more and more complex. We start connecting systems that were not designed to work together.”

Prof. Hillary Sillitto expands on the importance of systems of systems: “We connect systems together, creating mega-systems, because they allow us to do things we could not do otherwise, to solve problems that cannot be solved otherwise. They allow us to do things better, or to develop new business models and create new opportunities, like the Internet has.

There is a ‘super problem’ that stems from the formation of such enormous systems: the large number of risks these systems entail. When designing complex systems, the thinkers and planners see the opportunities and chances, but are not always able to assess the risks and try to minimize them early, at the planning and design phase.”

Olivier De Weck gives an example from the field of transportation: “Drivers texting behind the wheel is currently the most common cause of traffic accidents in the United States. This has to do with systems engineering, because if you analyze the problem, the traditional transportation system is now joined with communication systems in unexpected ways and means of communication, with human behavior and motivation at the center of it all.”

Sillitto says: “The more complex systems become, the more the connections between them multiply, the higher the chances that something will go wrong, be it on purpose or due to plain stupidity. Thus, the importance of the need to balance opportunities and risks cannot be stressed enough.”

The multileveled nature and complexity of systems raise the importance of risk management in all systems, whether they pertain to engineering or not. Dr. Gillie Fortuna gives an example from a system that constitutes the organizational structure of a major corporation, spread out around the globe – Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. Efficiency considerations have led Teva to place its marketing and production arrays under different managements. This created “a lot of interdependency between subsystems. The ability to manage client commitments without controlling the resources entails a lot of risk management that only a fine-tuned cooperation between all the involved factors can achieve.”

Dr. Amir Ziv-Av also raises the importance of optimization, which he defines as: “Viewing the system as a whole, in its ensemble of economic, operational and technological components.” According to him, “a ‘product’ is an answer to a collection of differently weighed objectives, and at the heart of its development process stands the task of maximizing the target function. In the end, to win the competition over the heart of the client, one must have a relative advantage, which is attained by doing more with fewer resources.”

1.2.3 Managing the Human Factor

The increasing complexity of technological systems has, in turn, impacted the complexity of organizational systems, where systems engineering operates. Developing a complex technological system requires the skills of many people, hailing from many different fields. Therefore, the systems engineer's integration work does not end with the technological context; today, more than ever, it is required in the human context as well. More and more experts believe that the importance of the ability to lead multidisciplinary teams outweighs even that of the systems engineer's technological competence.

This need has grown even further due to globalization, which played a key role in the increase in the power and importance of multinational corporations. These companies wish to utilize their advantages of size and global deployment by running multinational, multidisciplinary work teams, spread out around the globe. Of course, this approach makes the task of directing them even more difficult.

1.2.4 Traits Derived From an Interdisciplinary, Systemic View

The aforementioned shows just how crucial it is for a systems engineer to possess an all-inclusive, systemic view.

Boaz Dovrin is of the opinion that a key condition for a systems engineer's success is his ability to visualize the end of the project from day one. Prof. Ovadia Harari explains the necessity of this trait from the opposite direction as well: “a systems engineer must see the whole picture and use common sense to filter out the less important details, otherwise, the endless dive into the small details will disrupt his work processes.”

An all-inclusive, systemic view cannot exist without a second important ability: multidisciplinarity. In the words of Prof. Aviv Rosen: “systems engineers are people who are willing to delve into areas outside their natural habitat.”

Ovadia Harari illustrates this statement: “a systems engineer should take the budget issue into account. He must understand that money is a vital parameter. If a systems engineer is focused solely on technology, he will not have the correct balance, required of a good systems engineer.” He also adds that “a systems engineer should be able to talk to a variety of experts in a clear and simple language.”

The ability to simplify is important, not only for dialogue with different experts, but also to provide answers to technological needs. John Thomas believes that the ability to simplify things, “to see beyond technology and understand the problems,” allows a systems engineer to fulfill one of his most important missions – problem solving. John Thomas also uses the word “audacity” to describe another trait required of systems engineers. A systems engineer must be audacious, to be able to strive for the accomplishment of his tasks, while breaking through the obstacles in his path and dealing with limitations and difficulties.

Other experts also see systems thinking as a way to solve problems. Sandy Friedenthal, for instance, says he applies systems thinking to everything he does: “it's a way of thinking, an approach to problem solving. The focus of this approach is to understand different stakeholder perspectives and concerns, and define a problem first before jumping to a solution. Then establish value from the perspective of the stakeholders, determine alternative approaches to address the problem, evaluate the alternative solutions, and validate the solution addresses the need. System thinking provides a way to think about how the pieces of the solution fit together to address the problem.”

Another important trait all systems engineers should possess is the ability to choose between alternatives. This is important, because “today's infinite (technological) possibilities” create a wide range of options on the one hand and a large number of constraints on the other hand – a situation that forces one to choose wisely.

Norman Augustine comments on this: “compared to engineers, who solve engineering problems, systems engineers face problems that have intrinsic conflicts and numerous components. They do this by analyzing and by making trade-offs: this is a process of balancing out different considerations that also affects the determination of the appropriate ‘dose’ of each component in the system. This is one of systems engineering's most important areas of activity.”

In the same context, Dr. Kobi Reiner adds: “a systems engineer has to be able to cut. Engineers tend to complicate things, and it is his job to stop them, because today, the possibilities are endless. One of the key traits a successful systems engineer must possess is the ability to simplify, when the atmosphere is one of complexity and complication. A good systems engineer prevents complication from emerging.”

These traits allow the systems engineer to shape the craft of coordination and integration between the subsystems that make up the system he is in charge of.

For a systems engineer to have these abilities, required for successfully doing his job, he must first possess a row of fundamental traits. Ovadia Harari presents three such traits:

The first is a mix of openness, curiosity, and refusal to accept things as they are