Implementing a Systems Engineering Approach

In part two of this three-part series on systems engineering and a recent Aberdeen report, we take a look at the key considerations when implementing a systems engineering approach, as well as some good starting points for systems engineering initiatives.

Some key considerations when implementing a systems engineering approach are:

  • Translating customer needs into requirements
  • Defining component level requirements
  • Defining system level requirements
  • Managing interfaces between components and integration issues
  • Validating system functions

For these activities to be successful all disciplines (electrical, mechanical, & software systems) must work in unison and with the proper management of the components within these disciplines.

The starting point for system engineering initiatives lies with identifying customer needs. Companies can only be successful when they identify customer requirements at the beginning of the process. Customers must not only feel but also experience that the product offers exactly what they want. Requirements management is what sets companies apart from the competition.

According to Aberdeen, 36 percent best-in-class companies are more likely than competitors to focus efforts on improving requirements management. When companies translate customers’ needs into requirements and manage those to ensure what is designed is actually going to meet the customer request, success is much higher.

However, meeting the requirements of the customer is tricky without traceability. Where there is a lack of requirements traceability products will fail to meet the customer need. Where requirements are changed without understanding the impact on the customers’ needs revenues are lost.

Consequences of poor requirements traceability sets off a the chain of events that can lead to low-quality products released to the market.

There are key elements that form the foundation of a systems approach to building complex products, Aberdeen found, and while there are a wide range of tools, methods, and practices in the systems engineering toolbox, these elements are needed to form a solid foundation.

Well-connected assets and processes enable systems engineers to manage requirements in architecture, design, implementation, and testing with real-time, iterative collaboration across all engineering disciplines.

Conventional “siloed” engineering environments are linked so that systems engineers, mechanical engineers, and electrical engineers spend less time communicating across organizational and geographical boundaries.

With an integrated collaborative approach, interdependencies can be recognized and changes can be evaluated instantly, improving efficiency and productivity.

Validation of lifecycle assets as they are created and changed is also key. Proper requirements validation requires extensive closed-loop analysis, modeling, and simulation.

Validation begins at requirements definition and continues throughout the lifecycle so that changes are always accepted, managed and documented in a controlled manner.  As each change is accepted, the requirements must be revalidated by examining the artifacts used to do the initial validation.

Focusing on customer needs early in development and throughout the product lifecycle reduces late-stage rework and ensures the final product meets target objectives for functionality, cost, performance and quality.

Verification and test activities should be planned soon after requirements are defined and modified iteratively as requirements change. As-designed and as-built product must also be verified against requirements, beginning early in the lifecycle and continuing through final system verification and test.

By employing a wide variety of analysis, modeling, simulation, verification, and testing across the lifecycle, engineers can easily ensure product quality and compliance, while related artifacts, such as models and simulation results, are automatically maintained and tracked.

Next Monday, in our third article around systems engineering, we’ll look at the most important takeaways from the Aberdeen report.

How serious are customer requirements taken in your company?

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