Systems Engineering

Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary, logic-based approach for design, focused on the interaction of individual project elements, such as physical parts, processes, and people as they operate together to serve a specific purpose. The main goal within systems engineering is to define requirements to organize and optimize the function of engineered systems. It is then necessary to systematically track how top-level requirements flow down to lower levels of the design, and to maintain these throughout the entire life-cycle of the system, from conception to retirement. Systems engineering requires both technical knowledge of the particular system, and knowledge of how to manage general systems.

There are a variety of systems engineering processes, many of which have changed significantly over time. One example is the systems engineering process currently used by the Department of Defense[1]. This model separates out the technical processes and the technical management processes. For the technical processes, first the inputs of all objectives and constraints from all involved parties are compiled to form "Technical Requirements". Then follows a series of iterative processes for both the design or "decomposition" and implementation or "realization" of the project. These processes include analysis of the design and verification and validation of the final product. Meanwhile, the technical management processes include the tracking of requirements throughout all of the technical processes, planning and scheduling, as well as risk assessment and safety.

Systems are usually very complex, being made up of multiple subsystems themselves. These systems of systems are not always possible to accurately model and predict prior to implementation. Even with the implementation of systems engineering, many interactions between systems and system elements cannot be anticipated and will not be fully understood until the system is in use. These unplanned interactions, or emergent behaviors may cause undesired effects, giving rise to the need for safe design.

References and Resources

  1. Defense Acquisition University. Systems Engineering Process. DAU Acquisition Encyclopedia. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from!204
  2. NASA. NASA Systems Engineering Handbook / NASA/SP-6105 (Rev 2) 1/27/2020,