Guidance for Systems Engineering Novices

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Some users of the Systems Engineering Body of Knowledge (SEBoK) may be new to the field. This article provides recommended readings for such a user.

Learn the Basic Terms

As discussed in the Introduction to the SEBoK, there are four key terms that you should first understand when learning about systems engineering (SE):

  • A systemsystem is “a collection of elements and a collection of inter-relationships amongst the elements such that they can be viewed as a bounded whole relative to the elements around them.” Open systems exist in an environment described by related systems with which they may interact and conditions to which they may respond. While there are many definitions of the word “system,” the SEBoK authors believe that this definition encompasses most of those which are relevant to SE.
  • An engineered systemengineered system is an open system of technical or sociotechnicalsociotechnical elements that exhibits emergent properties not exhibited by its individual elements. It is created by and for people; has a purpose with multiple views; satisfies key stakeholders’ value propositions; has a life cycle and evolution dynamics; has a boundary and an external environment; and is part of a system-of-interest hierarchy.
  • Systems engineeringSystems engineering is “an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful (engineered) systems.” It focuses on holistically and concurrently understanding stakeholder needs; exploring opportunities; documenting requirements; and synthesizing, verifying, validating, and evolving solutions while considering the complete problem, from system concept exploration through system disposal.
  • A systems engineersystems engineer is “a person who practices systems engineering” as defined above, and whose systems engineering capabilities and experience include sustained practice, specialization, leadership, or authority over SE activities. These activities may be conducted by any competent person regardless of job title or professional affiliation.

Get an Overview

The next step for someone new to SE is get an overview of the discipline. Part 1: SEBoK Introduction contains four articles particularly helpful to one new to SE.

Learn About Systems

Engineering is often described as the application of science to develop new products or systems. Part 2: Foundations of Systems Engineering describes some of the underlying systems principles that form the foundation for systems engineering.

Learn How the Systems Approach Is Applied to Engineered Systems

The Knowledge Area Systems Approach Applied to Engineered Systems describes how systems science and systems thinking lead to the practice of systems engineering. All eight articles are recommended.

Explore the Methods of Systems Engineering

The SEBoK uses a life-cycle framework to describe the processes that comprise systems engineering. Part 3: SE and Management contains the plurality of the content of the SEBoK in eight knowledge areas. A new user should be familiar with the introductions to each of these Knowledge Areas, and should read further in those KAs of interest.

Explore the Applications of Systems Engineering

The SEBoK partitions the body of knowledge between methods and areas of application. Areas of application are classified as:

A new user should read the introduction to Part 4: Applications of Systems Engineering and to the four knowledge areas listed above. The reader’s interests can then suggest which further reading should be done.

Read Case Studies

Finally, the new user should scan the case studies and vignettes in Part 7: SE Implementation Examples and read a few of those in areas that appeal to the reader. This will help reinforce the fundamentals as well as illustrate the practice of SE.

The following case studies are included:

For Later Reading

Part 6: Related Disciplines contains a broad selection of Knowledge Areas and Topics that describe how systems engineers work with other disciplines. The Knowledge Area on SE and Software Engineering is particularly important, as modern systems get much of their functionality from software.

Part 5: Enabling Systems Engineering has KAs describing how individuals, teams, and organizations can develop to practice effective systems engineering.

A person new to SE should become familiar with several references that are beyond the SEBoK. They include the INCOSE Handbook, several standards (listed in Relevant Standards), and the main journals of systems engineering (including but not limited to Systems Engineering, the Journal of Enterprise Transformation, and Systems, Man, and Cybernetics).


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SEBoK v. 2.10, released 06 May 2024