Developing Individuals

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Developing each individual's systems engineering (SE) competencies is a key aspect of Enabling Individuals. The goal may be to develop competency in a broad range of SE competencies or a single aspect of SE, and it is important to know exactly which SE competencies are desired. This article describes strategies to develop SE competencies in individuals.

Closing Competency Gaps

Delivering excellent systems that fulfill customer needs is the primary goal of the organization. Developing the capability to deliver such systems is a secondary goal, and while necessary, is not sufficient. To attain both of these goals, the organization must assess itself and effect a strategy to identify and close competency gaps.

To identify competency gaps, an organization may take two basic steps:

  1. Listing desired competencies, as discussed in Roles and Competencies; and
  2. Assessing the competencies of individual systems engineers, as discussed in Assessing Individuals.

Models useful for listing competencies include the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) United Kingdom Advisory Board model (Cowper et al. 2005; INCOSE 2010), the SPRDE-SE/PSE model (DAU 2010), and the Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership (APPEL) model (Menrad and Lawson 2008).

Once the organization knows the SE competencies it needs to develop to close the competency gaps it has identified, it may choose from the several methods (Davidz and Martin 2011) outlined in the table below.

Table 1. SE Competency Development Framework. (SEBoK Original)


Goal Objective Method
PRIMARY GOAL = Delivery of excellent system to fulfill customer needs
Focus on successful performance outcome Corporate intiatives
Focus on performance of project team Team coaching of project team for performance enhancement
SECONDARY GOAL = Competency to deliver excellent system to fulfill customer needs
Develop individual competency Training courses
Job rotation
Hands-on experience
Develop a few hand-picked individuals
University educational degree program
Customized educational program
Combination program - education, training, job rotation, mentoring, hands-on experience
Course certificate program
Ensure individual competency through certification Certification program
Filter those working in systems roles Use individual characteristics to select employees for systems roles
Ensure organizational competency through certification ISO 9000
Develop organizational systems competency through processes Process improvement using an established framework
Concept maps to identify the thought processes of senior systems engineers
Standarize systems policies and procedures for consistency
Systems engineering web portal
Systems knowledge management repository
On-call organizational experts
Rotating professor who works at company part-time and is at university part-time


System Delivery

To enhance their ability to deliver excellent systems that fulfill customer needs, some organizations focus directly on successful system delivery with specific initiatives directed at enhancing the delivery of the end goal. Some organizations focus on the performance of the project team. One method to accomplish this is to offer coaching of the project team for performance enhancement. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership (APPEL) has a performance enhancement service which assesses team performance and then offers developmental team interventions with coaching (NASA 2010).

Develop Competency

To develop the competency to deliver excellent systems, organizations choose multiple paths, from developing the competency of individuals to developing the capability of the organization through processes (Davidz and Maier 2007). Additionally, to ensure that competency development is indeed enhancing system delivery, adequate measures should be put in place to confirm the efficacy of the selected methods.

Individual Competency

Methods used to develop individual competency include training courses, job rotation, mentoring, hands-on experience, selecting individuals for key projects or university degree programs, customized educational programs, combination programs, and certificate programs.

Classroom training courses are traditionally used by organizations for knowledge transfer and skill acquisition. Here, an instructor directs a classroom of participants. The method of instruction may vary from a lecture format to case study work to hands-on exercises. The impact and effectiveness of this method varies considerably based on the skill of the instructor, the effort of the participants, the presentation of the material, the course content, the quality of the course design process, and the matching of the course material to organizational needs. These types of interventions may also be given online. Squires (2011) investigates the relationship between online pedagogy and student perceived learning of SE competencies.

Another approach used to develop individual capability is job rotation. Here, a participant works in a series of rotational work assignments that cut across different aspects of the organization to gain broad experience in a relatively short amount of time.

Mentoring is when a more experienced individual is paired with a protégé in a developmental relationship. Many organizations utilize mentoring to varying levels of success. As with training, the impact and effectiveness of mentoring varies considerably. There must be a tenable pairing of individuals and adequate time must be spent on the mentoring.

Organizations may choose to develop systems competency in individuals by getting more hands-on experience for their engineers. A research study by Davidz on enablers and barriers to the development of systems thinking showed that systems thinking is developed primarily by experiential learning (Davidz 2006; Davidz and Nightingale 2008, 1-14). As an example, some individuals found that working in a job that dealt with the full system, such as working in an integration and test environment, enabled development of systems thinking.

Another method to develop individual competency is to select individuals who appear to have high potential and focus on their development. Hand-selection may or may not be accompanied by the other identified methods. Individual competency can also be developed through formal education, such as a university degree program. A growing number of SE degree programs are offered worldwide (Lasfer and Pyster 2011).

Companies have also worked with local universities to set up customized educational programs for their employees. The company benefits because it can tailor the educational program to the unique needs of its business. In a certificate program, individuals receive a certificate for taking a specific set of courses, either at a university or as provided by the company. There are a growing number of certificate programs for developing systems competency.

An organization may choose a combination of methods to develop individual systems competency. A combination program might include education, training, job rotation, mentoring, and hands-on experience. Many companies offer these types of combination programs. Though many of these programs are not specifically oriented to develop systems skills, the breadth of technical training and experience, coupled with business training, can produce a rich understanding of systems for the participant. Furthermore, new combination programs can be designed to develop specific systems-oriented skills for an organization. Example combination programs include General Electric’s Edison Engineering Development Program (GE 2010) and Lockheed Martin’s Leadership Development Programs (Lockheed Martin 2010).

Individual Certification

Organizations may try to ensure individuals' systems competency through a certification program. These types of certification can be a combination of work experience, educational background, and training classes. Organizations may encourage employees to seek out certifications from local, national, or international professional bodies. In SE, an organization may encourage its employees to seek certification from the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) (INCOSE 2011) or may use this type of certification as a filter (see section on Filters, below). In addition, many companies have developed their own internal certification measures. For example, the Aerospace Corporation has an Aerospace Systems Architecting and Engineering Certificate Program (ASAECP) (Aerospace 2007)


Another approach to developing individual competency is to use certain individual characteristics as a filter for selecting employees for systems roles. Before an organization utilizes a list of individual characteristics as a filter, however, it is important to (1) critically examine how the list of individual characteristics was determined and (2) critically examine how the individual characteristics identified enable the performance of a systems job. Individual characteristics should (a) enable one to perform a systems job, (b) be viewed as important to perform a systems job, or (c) be needed and necessary to perform a systems job. The idea is that a characteristic that is necessary is much stronger than one that is enabling, and before filtering for certain traits, it is important to understand if the characteristic is an enabler or a necessity. Understanding the extent to which findings are generally applicable is very important, since a list of characteristics that determine success in one organization may not be generalizable to another organization.

Organizational Capability

Once an organization has determined which SE capabilities are mission critical (please see Deciding on Desired Systems Engineering Capabilities within Businesses and Enterprises), there are many different ways in which an organization can seek to develop or improve these capabilities. Some approaches seen in the literature include the following:

  • Organizations may choose to develop organizational systems capability through processes. One method organizations may choose is to pursue process improvement using an established framework. An example is the Capability Maturity Model® Integration (CMMI) process improvement approach (SEI 2010, 1).
  • Concept maps - graphical representations of engineering thought processes - have been shown to be an effective method of transferring knowledge from senior engineering personnel to junior engineering personnel (Kramer 2007, 26-29; Kramer 2005). These maps may provide a mechanism for increasing knowledge of the systems engineering population of an organization.
  • An organization may also choose to develop organizational systems competencies by standardizing systems policies and procedures. An example from NASA is their NASA Systems Engineering Processes and Requirement (NASA 2007).
  • Some organizations use a web portal to store and organize applicable systems engineering knowledge and processes, which assists in developing organizational systems competency. An example is the Mission Assurance Portal for the Aerospace Corporation (Roberts et al. 2007, 10-13).
  • Another approach being considered in the community is the development of a rotating professor role, where the person would work at the company and then be at a university to strengthen the link between academia and industry.
  • Another approach is to alter organizational design to foster and mature a desired competency. For example, an organization that identifies competency in the area of reliability as critical to its SE success may develop a reliability group, which will help foster growth and improvement in reliability competencies.

Organizational Certification

Another approach is to ensure organizational competency through certification. An example is ISO certification (ISO 2010). Before this approach is used, it is important to verify that the capabilities required by the certification are indeed the systems capabilities sought by the organization (please see Deciding on Desired Systems Engineering Capabilities within Businesses and Enterprises for additional information on determining appropriate organizational capabilities).

Shorten Product Life Cycle

An organization may also choose to reposition its product life cycle philosophy to maintain system competency. Since the systems competencies of individuals are primarily developed through experiential learning, providing experiential learning opportunities is critical. An example is the NASA APPEL program (APPEL 2009).

Maintaining Competency Plans

An organization that has developed an SE competency plan should consider how to maintain it. How, and how often, will the competency plan be re-examined and updated? The maintenance process should account for the ongoing evolution of global contexts, business strategies, and the SEBoK. The process for assessing competencies and taking action to improve them must be part of the normal operations of the organization and should occur periodically.


Works Cited

Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership (APPEL). 2009. NASA's systems engineering competencies. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Association. Accessed on September 15, 2011. Available at

Aerospace. 2007. "A Corporate Approach to National Security Space Education." Crosslink. (Spring 2007). Accessed September 8, 2011. Available at:

Cowper, D., S. Bennison, R. Allen-Shalless, K. Barnwell, S. Brown, A. El Fatatry, J. Hooper, S. Hudson, L. Oliver, and A. Smith. 2005. Systems Engineering Core Competencies Framework. Folkestone, UK: International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) UK Advisory Board (UKAB).

Davidz, H.L. and J. Martin. 2011. "Defining a Strategy for Development of Systems Capability in the Workforce". Systems Engineering.14(2): 141-143.

Davidz, H.L. and M.W. Maier. 2007. "An Integrated Approach to Developing Systems Professionals." Paper presented at the 17th Annual International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) International Symposium, 24-28 June 2007. San Diego, CA, USA.

Davidz, H.L., and D. Nightingale. 2008. "Enabling Systems Thinking to Accelerate the Development of Senior Systems Engineers." Systems Engineering. 11(1): 1-14.

Davidz, H.L. 2006. Enabling Systems Thinking to Accelerate the Development of Senior Systems Engineers. Dissertation. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, USA.

GE. 2010. Edison Engineering Development Program (EEDP) in General Electric. Accessed on September 15, 2011. Available at

INCOSE. 2010. Systems Engineering Competencies Framework 2010-0205. San Diego, CA, USA: International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), INCOSE-TP-2010-003.

INCOSE. 2011. "Systems Engineering Professional Certification." In International Council on Systems Engineering online. Accessed September 8, 2011. Available at:

Kramer, M.J. 2007. "Can Concept Maps Bridge The Engineering Gap?" Crosslink, the Aerospace Corporation Magazine of Advances in Aerospace Technology. 8 (1) (Spring 2007): 26-9.

Kramer, M.J. 2005. Using Concept Maps for Knowledge Acquisition in Satellite Design: Translating 'Statement of Requirements on Orbit' to 'Design Requirements. Dissertation. Ft. Lauder, FL, USA: Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences, Nova Southeastern University.

Lasfer, K. and A. Pyster. 2011. "The Growth of Systems Engineering Graduate Programs in the United States." Paper presented at Conference on Systems Engineering Research, 15-16 April 2011. Los Angeles, CA, USA.

Lockheed Martin. 2010. Training and Leadership Development Programs for College Applicants in Lockheed Martin Corporation. Bethesda, MD, USA. Accessed on August 30, 2012. Available at

NASA. 2010. Academy of Program/Project & engineering leadership (APPEL): Project life cycle support in U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Washington, DC, USA: U.S. National Air and Space Administration (NASA). Accessed on September 15, 2011. Available at

NASA. 2007. NASA Procedural Requirements: NASA Systems Engineering Processes and Requirements. Washington, DC, USA: U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA). NPR 7123.1A.

Roberts, J., B. Simpson, and S. Guarro. 2007. "A Mission Assurance Toolbox." Crosslink, the Aerospace Corporation Magazine of Advances in Aerospace Technology. 8(2) (Fall 2007): 10-13.

SEI. 2007. Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI) for Development, version 1.2, Measurement and Analysis Process Area. Pittsburg, PA, USA: Software Engineering Institute (SEI)/Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

Squires, A. 2011. Investigating the Relationship between Online Pedagogy and Student Perceived Learning of Systems Engineering Competencies. Dissertation. Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Primary References

Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership (APPEL). 2009. NASA's Systems Engineering Competencies. Washington, DC, USA: US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Accessed on September 15, 2011. Available at

DAU. 2010. SPRDE-SE/PSE Competency Assessment: Employee's User's Guide, 24 May 2010 version. in Defense Acquisition University (DAU)/U.S. Department of Defense Database Online. Accessed on September 15, 2011. Available at

Davidz, H.L. and J. Martin. 2011. "Defining a Strategy for Development of Systems Capability in the Workforce". Systems Engineering.14(2): 141-143.

INCOSE. 2010. Systems Engineering Competencies Framework 2010-0205. San Diego, CA, USA: International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), INCOSE-TP-2010-003.

Additional References


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