Systems Approach Applied to Engineered Systems

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This knowledge area (KA) provides a guides as to how a systems approach may be applied to the identification of complex problems and opportunities and to the synthesis, implementation, sustainment and use of engineered system solutions.

In an engineered system context, a systems approach is a holistic approach that spans the entire life of the system; additionally, it can be applied in development and operational/support contexts. It addresses the need to define a systems approach that would provide a common language and intellectual foundation and also to ensure that practical systems concepts, principles, patterns and tools are accessible to perform systems engineering, as is discussed in the introduction to Part 2: Systems.

To download a PDF of all of Part 2 (including this knowledge area), please click here.


Each part of the SEBoK is divided into knowledge areas (KAs), which are groupings of information with a related theme. The KAs in turn are divided into topics. This KA contains the following topics:

Systems Approach

This KA describes a high-level framework of activities and principles synthesized from the elements of the systems approaches, as described earlier in Part 2 of the SEBoK, and is mapped to the articles Concepts of Systems Thinking, Principles of Systems Thinking, and Patterns of Systems Thinking. Figure 1 describes how the knowledge is arranged in this KA.

Figure 1. Systems Engineering and the Systems Approach. (SEBoK Original)

According to Jackson et al. (2010, 41-43), the systems approach to engineered systems is a problem-solving paradigm. It is a comprehensive problem identification and resolution approach based upon the principles, concepts, and thinking tools of systems thinking and systems science, along with the concepts inherent in engineering problem-solving. It incorporates a holistic systems view that covers the larger context of the system, including engineering and operational environments, stakeholders, and entire life cycles.

Successful systems practice should not only apply systems thinking to the system being created, but should also consider using system thinking in the way that work is planned and conducted. See Part 5: Enabling Systems Engineering for further discussions on how individuals, teams, businesses and enterprises may be enabled to perform systems engineering.


Works Cited

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

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.

Additional References

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

Hitchins, D, 2007. Systems Engineering, a 21st Century Systems Methodology. Wiley

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

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