Managing Complexity in Software-Intensive Products: Success Stories

In the first two posts in this series, we reviewed the rewards and risks in developing software-intensive products, and we explored how a systems engineering approach can help manufacturers successfully manage the complexities of smart-product design.

Now, to conclude, let’s look at how some leading developers of smart products are making the systems engineering strategy work for competitive advantage.

Continental takes control

Continental AG, the global automotive supplier, has implemented a systems engineering approach within its own company as well as in working with OEMs and suppliers. This has enabled the company to meet tight targets for cost control, performance, and quality.

With automobile manufacturing growing in complexity due to the large volume of software-driven features, a typical development project at Continental can generate, realize, and validate as many as 11,000 to 12,000 requirements. Systems engineering helps keep this volume manageable.

Continental has greatly reduced the time required to manage the exchange of requirements with partners. It has also significantly improved accuracy on initial imports of documents, eliminating costly rework. And Continental has reduced change cycle time for predictable on-time delivery of new products and features.

Of all the returns on Continental’s systems engineering investments, this must surely be the best: The company consistently brings innovative new products to market before the competition.

Insitu deploys integrated engineering processes

Insitu, Inc. specializes in the design, development, production and operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. In 2004, the U.S. Marine Corps awarded Insitu a contract to provide surveillance video systems for convoy and base protection in Iraq and Afghanistan. The company’s work needed to comply with Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) Level III standards – a daunting task for a relatively small company.

Integrating Insitu’s many complex software systems into one multi-disciplinary product development process was too much for the company’s development tooling at the time. Its systems were designed mainly for defect tracking and change requests. What Insitu sought instead was an effective way to achieve full CMMI Level III compliance without needing to double staff or falling behind on the development schedule.

Insitu found its solution through integrated engineering processes steered with the aid of application lifecycle management tools. This helped it achieve CMMI Level III compliance in nine months. Not only did Insitu meet the requirements of the  contract at hand, it also set themselves up to respond successfully to the additional government contract proposal requests that followed. 

Putting systems engineering to the test

Need more evidence that the systems engineering approach can help smooth the development of software-intensive products?

  • John Deere has evolved from a U.S.-focused manufacturer with a defined range of mechanical products to a high-tech company delivering highly sophisticated farming solutions and services worldwide.
  • Intuitive Surgical enables hospitals to build on the skills and experience of its surgeons by providing robotic assistance, where possible.

Explore the science behind systems engineering  with Eric C. Honour’s paper, “Understanding the Value of Systems Engineering” published by The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).

Honour statistically compares the effectiveness of three different levels of systems engineering tested by Boeing to develop similar systems for manufacturing airplanes. In a study dating to the mid-1990s, Boeing varied its systems engineering methods primarily in the areas of defining and managing requirements, technical control of subcontractors, design reviews, integration methods, and acceptance testing.

Honour’s paper provides the full story. But here’s a spoiler: Boeing found that the most rigorous systems engineering practices applied to the most complex systems enabled project completion in half the time required for the least complex systems developed with the least rigorous systems engineering practices.

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