Use Case 2: Other Engineers

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Successful complex systems require bringing specialties together. This makes the SEBoK useful to engineers with backgrounds in biomedical, civil, electronics, chemical, civil, materials, mechanical, software, and many other specialties.

Studying the SEBoK enables engineers from disciplines other than systems engineering to:

  • see why good systems engineering practice must involve multiple disciplines
  • appreciate a broader view of systems beyond their specialties
  • understand how their contributions fit into the larger systems picture
  • prepare to solve more difficult and encompassing problems

In many cases, engineers who study systems engineering as a supplement to their non-SE specialities find their professional value enhanced when they put the new knowledge into practice.

Use of Topics

For engineers from non-SE backgrounds, each part of the SEBoK contributes something to the experience of learning about systems engineering:

Engineers may be tempted to skip over knowledge areas or topics which sound more like management than engineering stories, for example Part 3 or Part 5. This temptation should be resisted, because these topics are actually about how SE orchestrates the efforts of multiple disciplines, not management in the administrative sense.

Finally, the extensive lists of references throughout the SEBoK provide a basis for further readings.

Vignette: Software Engineer

Jose Wilks is an entrepreneurial software engineer who wants to learn more about systems engineering principles applied to embedded systems for advanced document identification and verification. He wants to implement best practices in developing highly secure systems for real-time image processing and forensic verification of documents. His company provides a rapid, secure and cost-effective solution for verifying the authenticity of identity, travel and financial documents, with technology that runs on proprietary tablet computers for portable and fixed locations.

Jose is knowledgeable about computer hardware engineering, low-level interfaces between hardware and software, and the related tradeoffs in embedded devices. His company has developed research prototypes, but without the stringent security requirements for actual field usage linked to government identification databases. The few experimental units which have been sold have fared well in limited testing, but Jose wants to expand into markets for government agencies, law enforcement departments and the private sector. To make headway into those diverse markets, he will need to confront abundant new constraints and challenges.

Jose begins his study of SE by skimming the SEBoK 1.0 Introduction and the Scope and Context of the SEBoK to get an overview of the SEBoK contents. As he reads, he sometimes refers to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBoK), which Jose already knows from his many years of experience on software projects. In the SEBoK, Jose is looking for nuggets of knowledge and pointers that can help his enterprise expand. Here are his notes:

  • Part 3: SE and Management has concepts that are new to us and that may work. Extra system-level V&V gates identified in Life Cycle Models can be incorporated in company processes, and the references can help with implementation details. There is also material about system-wide procedures beyond software V&V, and about where to find testing and regulation standards used by various government entities. Together with the traditional software testing already in place, these processes could ensure conformity to the regulations and expedite the product's approval for use.
  • Though the system concept is proven, the company must still convince potential buyers of the system's financial benefits while demonstrating that all security criteria are satisfied. To do that, we must understand the needs of the stakeholders better. In expressing system requirements and benefits, we need to start using the terminology of users, corporate/government purchasers, and regulatory agencies. Stakeholder Needs and Requirements is relevant here. The company needs to quantify expected ROI for investing in its products.
  • System Realization addresses our broader V&V concerns. We need to demonstrate the measures we are taking to boost reliability of system performance. The standard models and measures for system reliability described in the SEBoK are new to us — now staff must develop tests to quantify important attributes. We may want to model reliability and system adherence to regulations using a form of Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE). We can learn more about this from the references.
  • Part 5: Enabling Systems Engineering makes a convincing case that having the right people for a new systems engineering culture is critical. We should probably hire a systems engineer or two to augment our engineering department expertise.

Now Jose feels that he is better prepared to adapt his processes for new system lifecycles and environments, and that he can see a clear path through the morass of agencies and regulations. His priorities are to quantify the value proposition for his technology innovations, make inroads into new markets, and strengthen his staff for the long-term enterprise.

Vignette: Mechanical Engineer

Cindy Glass is a mechanical engineer whose experience in the petroleum industry has focused on large-scale oil extraction equipment in the field. Now Cindy is tasked to help manage the development of new offshore oil platforms with robotic technology, computer networks and broader systems considerations. This calls for incorporating systems engineering principles from day one.

Some of the drilling is to be done with remote-control unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). Along with safety, which was always a major concern, cybersecurity now takes center stage. Hostile state actors, "hacktivists," or others could cause havoc if they succeed in taking control of the remote vehicles or other infrastructure. Unfortunately, software system implementation is completely new to Cindy, who realizes that this entails dealing with many more engineering disciplines and dimensions of system constraints than she has until now.

Cindy is accustomed to implementing minor design changes in existing equipment, with automation and safety guidelines already in place. Now she is starting from scratch, with the earliest stages of the platform lifecycle. While Cindy understands tradeoffs involving mechanical sub-systems like rigs and drilling materials, she now must now broaden her system analysis to include new environmental constraints and system security.

Cindy consults the SEBoK and discovers that for her effort to understand system design with many "-ilities," System Realization is a good starting point and its references should provide the in-depth information she needs.

The project lifecycle requires pursuing several major activities concurrently:

  • engineering platform sub-components
  • evaluating technology opportunities
  • understanding the needs of all stakeholders inside and outside the company
  • progressing through increasingly detailed prototypes, working slices of software, system specifications, designs, plans, business cases, and, security and safety analyses of the platform architecture and its operations

To understand how to manage such a project lifecycle, Cindy turns to Part 3: SE and Management. The Planning section provides detailed advice for starting out. Cindy expects to conduct her management activities on a rigorous basis, to consider the interfaces between the engineering specialties, and to produce a project plan that calls for a broad set of integrated management and technical plans.

Being new to the software development world, Cindy reads The Nature of Software and Ten Things a Systems Engineer Needs to Know about Software Engineering, and consults the SWEBoK for references on software engineering. For guidance on managing a software team, she studies Ten Things a Systems Engineer Needs to Know about Managing a Software Team.

These readings show Cindy how closely Systems Engineering and Software Engineering are intertwined. For example, they remind her to include security specialists at both the software level and the systems level from the beginning.

From her initial plunge into study of the SEBoK, Cindy has gained an appreciation of the wide range of system constraints she must account for, and the many engineering disciplines she must work with as a result. She plans to consult the references in the SEBoK on each unfamiliar subject that she encounters throughout the architecting, design, development and deployment of the new platforms.


The SEBoK provides insights and guidance concerning systems engineering principles for other kinds of engineers and related technical disciplines. These engineers will benefit from the knowledge areas highlighted in this use case. The SEBoK gives pointers to major references for other engineers to become more interdisciplinary and consider additional aspects in their job. Thus they become more valuable to their employers and society.


Works Cited

Abran, A., J. W. Moore, P. Bourque, R. Dupuis, and L. L. Tripp. 2004. SWEBOK: Guide to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge, 2004 version. Los Alamitos, CA, USA and Tokyo, Japan: IEEE Computer Society Press.

Primary References


Additional References


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