Reading List: MITRE System Engineering Guide

By | June 26, 2014

The head of strategy for a major corporation once told me that if he wanted an iPad app he could get a local vendor to build one in 2 weeks.  I responded “An iPad app to do what?”  He thought for a moment, and then said that I had a point.

You can build a consensus around a simple iPad app — or anything simple, for that matter.  And it certainly sounds easy enough to build.

Simple designs for consumer products are better than complex designs–especially because they need to fit into a complex consumer life.  Simple enterprise systems are better–especially because they need to fit into a complex enterprise.

But the process to design something simple such that it fits into a complex environment is not simple.

In fact, the process is called System Engineering, which doesn’t even sound simple.  It certainly doesn’t sound like a “quick win” or anything that will deliver results this quarter!  If you split “System Engineering” in half, both words still sound complicated.  If you prepend the word “complex” then you get “Complex Systems Engineering”.   Who invited this guy to the meeting?

Nonetheless, someone has to take on the thankless job of taming this complexity into a system that can be used by people who have no time to understand a complex system because they are working in a complex environment.  This task falls to us designers, architects and engineers.

For the architects and engineers I recommend a look at the MITRE Systems Engineering Guide.  There are many SE processes that are tailored to different uses and you do not need to stop using yours and use this one, but it is a good baseline to use to make sure that the people who want to “keep it simple” have not stripped your process down to something that misses the point:  Complexity.

I also recommend a look at ZAPTHINK’s Vision for Enterprise IT in 2020.  Complex System Engineering is one of a handful of competencies listed that is required for “Designing systems to exhibit emergent properties like business agility”.

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