Systems Approach Applied to Engineered Systems

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This knowledge area (KA) provides a guide 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, including its development and operational/support contexts. The need to define this systems approach that would provide a common language and intellectual foundation; and make practical systems concepts, principles, patterns and tools accessible to perform systems engineering 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 described earlier in this Part 2 of the SEBoK, that are 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 understanding 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.

The approach described in this KA expands upon the fundamentals of a systems approach to cover other aspects relevant to Engineered Systems.

People who think and act in a systems way are essential to the success of both research and practice. Successful systems practice will not only applying systems thinking to the system being created but should also consider a using system thinking in the way work is planned and conducted. It would also be of benefit to have people involved in practice who have at the least an awareness of system research and ideally are involved in development of the theories relevant to better practice.


Works Cited

Churchman, C. West. 1979. The Systems Approach and Its Enemies. New York: Basic Books.

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.

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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SEBoK v. 1.9.1 released 30 September 2018

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