Systems Approach Applied to Engineered Systems

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Throughout the SEBoK, Systems Engineering theory and practice will be presented using the related principles of Systems Thinking (glossary) and the [Systems Approach (glossary]. The [Systems Approach (glossary)] is a set of principles for applying [Systems Thinking (glossary)] to [Engineered System (glossary)] contexts. According to Jackson et al (2010, pp. 41-43), the Systems Approach is a problem solving paradigm. It is a comprehensive problem understanding and resolution approach based upon the principles of systems thinking; and utilizing the concepts and thinking tools of Systems Science (glossary) along with the concepts inherent in engineering problem solving. It incorporates a Holistic (glossary) systems view of the system that includes the larger context of the system, including engineering and operational environments, stakeholders, and full life cycle. This Systems Approach forms the foundation for the descriptions and standards which define the practices of Systems Engineering. Systems engineering-related competency models generally agree that a fully capable systems engineer must employ Systems Thinking when undertaking these practices.

This Knowledge Area describes the Systems Approach in the context of applying Systems Thinking to an engineered system through its whole life.

According to Checkland (1999, 318), Systems Thinking is “an epistemology which, when applied to human activity is based on basic ideas of systems.”

Senge (1990) provides an expanded definition as follows: “Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static "snapshots." It is a set of general principles -- distilled over the course of the twentieth century, spanning fields as diverse as the physical and social sciences, engineering, and management. During the last thirty years, these tools have been applied to understand a wide range of corporate, urban, regional, economic, political, ecological, and even psychological systems. And systems thinking is a sensibility for the subtle interconnectedness that gives living systems their unique character.”

These sources and others discussed in the Systems Overview knowledge area associate at least three different ideas to Systems Thinking. The first is a set of concepts to assist in learning how to think in terms of systems; the second is a set of principles to ensure a holistic approach to problems whatever there domain and the third is a set of tools to support the approach.

In the Introduction to this part of the SEBoK we make the following distinctions:

  • Systems Thinking is a fundamental set of ideas which encapsulate a way of thinking about something as a set of related systems.
    • Systems Science is a collective term for a community of System Researchers who have applied Systems Thinking to aspects of real world problems and solutions. The outputs of this work can be summaries by:
    • A System of Systems-Concepts, defining ideas which can be used to better understand the systemic nature of a situation or thing, independent of its application domain.
    • A number of Systems Methodologies, which organize these ideas into a problem exploration and/or solution creation approach. These methodologies are often based upon a particular world view or paradigm, which influences the approach they take and the models they use.
  • Systems Approach is a combination of the above into a generic problem resolution approach which spans the whole life of an Engineered System context, as part of the exploration and resolution of one or more real world problem situations or opportunities.

Note, the definitions above have been produced for the SEBoK to provide a framework of ideas to help understand the relationships between systems ideas and the practice of Systems Engineering. While they are not inconsistent with the literature in outline some authors have used different combinations of terminology to express them. It is our aim for the above ideas to help SEBoK readers to understand the literature and its relevance to them, without becoming too confused by slight differences, or even contradictions, in the detailed language used.

Topics

The topics contained within this knowledge area include:

References

Works Cited

Checkland, P. 1999. Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. New York, NY, USA: John Wiley & Sons.

Jackson, S., D. Hitchins, and H. Eisner. 2010. "What is the Systems Approach?". INCOSE Insight. 13(1): 41-43.

Senge, P. M. 1990. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York, Doubleday/Currency.

Primary References

Checkland, P. 1999. Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. New York, NY, USA: John Wiley & Sons.

Hitchins, D. 2009. "What are the General Principles Applicable to Systems?". INCOSE Insight. 12(4).

Jackson, S., D. Hitchins, and H. Eisner. 2010. "What is the Systems Approach?". INCOSE Insight. 13(1): 41-43.

Lawson, H. 2010. A Journey Through the Systems Landscape. London, UK: College Publications, Kings College.

Senge, P. M. 1990. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York, Doubleday/Currency.

Additional References

None.


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