Chapter 5

From Traditional to Lean Systems Engineering

Traditional Systems Engineering is a practice which has a lot of strengths, but is not as good as it could be.”

Lean Systems Engineering Working Group of INCOSE

5.1 Successes and Failures of Traditional Systems Engineering

Human civilization has successfully used systems thinking to create many complex systems such as the pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and, more recently, infrastructure, communications, phone networks, health, education, safety, emergency response, war effort, and many others—all without using the formal term Systems Engineering (SE). SE applies to all engineering domains. The practice of SE is now mandatory in U.S. government technology acquisition programs. The use of SE in commercial programs is voluntary, but increasing.

The mandated use of SE in government programs is a relatively recent U.S. government policy—only announced in 2000. For several years prior, NASA operated under the so-called Faster, Better, Cheaper (FBC) policy, which the U.S. Department of Defense termed Acquisition Reform (AR). Both policies were blamed for numerous system failures during the 1990s, adding up to $12 billion losses in space systems.1

The subsequent study sponsored by the U.S. Congress [Young, 2000] diagnosed that FBC/AR removed much of government oversight, made prior mandatory standards optional, and permitted contractors to cut Systems Engineering efforts as well as tests. These cuts, according to the study, led to the ...

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