Welcome!

IBM Cloud Authors: Elizabeth White, Sematext Blog, Eric Robertson, Carmen Gonzalez, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: IBM Cloud

IBM Cloud: Article

The Six Principles of Systems Engineering

IBM's Rational Rules Developed Over 10-Year Period

IBM Rational's six principles of systems engineering are a set of high-level systems development guidelines derived from the careful analysis of successful, complex systems development engagements over the past ten years.

Although they are neither comprehensive nor mutually exclusive, they serve to highlight key areas of focus for organizations interested in quickly building expertise in complex systems development. They also serve as a "measuring stick" for assessing potential problem areas and the root causes underlying symptomatic project deficiencies or failures. It is well-known and accepted that function, schedule, and cost are three key and mutually dependent aspects of project management -- make a change to one, and the effects often ripple through the other two.

A similar relationship exists in product and program management for complex systems development. As shown in Figure 1, the three key aspects are:

  1. Systems architecture
  2. Organizational structure, including the systems development infrastructure
  3. Process, including workflows, best practices, and the like
These aspects collaborate to help achieve the following:

  • "Build the right system and build the system right"

    Architecture focuses on building the right system and model-driven use-case based architectural decomposition lays the foundation for building the system right. Why is architecture singled out? Because it provides the foundation on which the system is ultimately constructed. The choices made in selecting the system's architecture become a lasting legacy - either good or bad.

    Here's a transportation example: The basic architecture used for centuries in building roads or other transportation elements (like rail tracks) was basically point-to-point (the shortest distance between two points can be considered optimal since it minimizes the road length and one would assume maximizes time to travel efficiency). Simple enough, but there was always at least a physical constraint: the terrain, which forced the path to avoid obstacles. There were also other potential constraints such as "hostile" territory or political boundaries.

    In any case, roads were built and paths crossed somewhat haphazardly. Move forward to the 20th century. Population growth generated additional constraints - namely street lights or traffic signs to optimize the flow of traffic through intersections. These are somewhat problematic on roads architected in the point-to-point avoid obstacle approach, especially where more than two roads intersect. A clearly "better" architecture has proven to be laying out roads in rectangular grids. This architecture and the many implementations are much easier to control from a signaling and traffic flow perspective.

    So build the right system and build it right - making it robust (scalable, extendible, easy to maintain, easy to use, and so on).

  • "Do the right things, and do the things right"

    The systems development framework focuses on defining the right things to do throughout the product lifecycle to optimize business value and return on investment and best practices, processes/supporting tools and governance (requirements, quality, change, configuration, and program/project management) focus on ensuring things are done right.

  • "Apply the right resources, and apply the resources right"

    "Doing" and "building" are action verbs; they require resources to perform the "doing" and the "building". The most significant enterprise resource is people, followed by supporting infrastructure. Acquiring, motivating, and retaining skilled personnel applies the right resources, and aligning the organization appropriately to optimize communication, collaboration, and effort applies the resources optimally. A sound enterprise infrastructure (including IT equipment and software) is one key aspect in ensuring the resources are applied optimally, once again maximizing business value and return on investment

    The six principles of systems engineering address all three aspects described above. The three technical principles (noted below) focus on architecture and the derivation of system models, while the remaining principles provide the complementary infrastructures and workflows needed to optimize the technical development environment.

    The six systems engineering development principles are:

    1. Decompose systems, not requirements (technical).
    2. Enable both separation and integration of "key systems development" concerns (technical).
    3. Specifications flow up and down the architecture (technical).
    4. Systems and components collaborate; so should development teams.
    5. Development organizations should reflect product architectures.
    6. Base the "development" lifecycle on removing risk and adding value.
    Let's examine each of these principles, initially from a generic systems engineering view, and then specifically in the context of joint hardware/software development.

    Decompose systems, not requirements
    Since systems and software engineering principles and methods have been written about, discussed, and applied in countless cases, one might think that development teams have a common understanding of such terms as "system" and "systems engineering." Unfortunately, this is not the case; neither across enterprises within a specific industry nor across the product and functional domains within an engineering development community in a single enterprise.

    According to INCOSE (the International Council on Systems Engineering), systems engineering is2:
    An interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems. It focuses on defining customer needs and required functionality early in the development cycle, documenting requirements, and then proceeding with design synthesis and system validation while considering the complete problem:

    • Operations
    • Performance
    • Test
    • Manufacturing
    • Cost and Schedule
    • Training and Support
    • Disposal
    A system is a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole, which provides a set of services that are used by an enterprise to carry out a business purpose (mission). System components consist of hardware, software, data, and workers3. Put simply, a system is a complex entity that provides some tangible result of value. Systems engineering is a disciplined approach that helps us examine desired results and determine what can satisfy them. It also helps us determine how to do this within a set of business-critical constraints (cost, schedule, testing parameters, ease of manufacturing, and so on). The "what" is the system, the "how" is the functional requirements, the "business-critical constraints" are the supplementary requirements, and the "desired results" are products of use cases.
  • More Stories By Murray Cantor

    Murray Cantor is a member of the IBM Rational CTO team, taking the lead for Governance and Systems. Cantor formerly lead the IBM Rational field services group, promoting and extending Rational best practices, and working closely with customers on innovative ways to build and deliver systems more efficiently.

    More Stories By Gene Roose

    Gene Roose is a senior systems engineering consultant for IBM Rational, concentrating on model-driven systems development methods. He assists clients with solution analysis and design, architectural derivation and validation, and overall project management.

    Comments (0)

    Share your thoughts on this story.

    Add your comment
    You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

    In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


    @ThingsExpo Stories
    In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
    "Once customers get a year into their IoT deployments, they start to realize that they may have been shortsighted in the ways they built out their deployment and the key thing I see a lot of people looking at is - how can I take equipment data, pull it back in an IoT solution and show it in a dashboard," stated Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
    The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform and how we integrate our thinking to solve complicated problems. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, demonstrated how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and sh...
    Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more business becomes digital the more stakeholders are interested in this data including how it relates to business. Some of these people have never used a monitoring tool before. They have a question on their mind like “How is my application doing” but no id...
    @GonzalezCarmen has been ranked the Number One Influencer and @ThingsExpo has been named the Number One Brand in the “M2M 2016: Top 100 Influencers and Brands” by Onalytica. Onalytica analyzed tweets over the last 6 months mentioning the keywords M2M OR “Machine to Machine.” They then identified the top 100 most influential brands and individuals leading the discussion on Twitter.
    IoT is rapidly changing the way enterprises are using data to improve business decision-making. In order to derive business value, organizations must unlock insights from the data gathered and then act on these. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Hoffman, Vice President at EastBanc Technologies, and Peter Shashkin, Head of Development Department at EastBanc Technologies, discussed how one organization leveraged IoT, cloud technology and data analysis to improve customer experiences and effici...
    DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
    As data explodes in quantity, importance and from new sources, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and cloud environments grow with it. Managing data includes protecting it, indexing and classifying it for true, long-term management, compliance and E-Discovery. Commvault can ensure this with a single pane of glass solution – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enter...
    Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, discussed the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
    Successful digital transformation requires new organizational competencies and capabilities. Research tells us that the biggest impediment to successful transformation is human; consequently, the biggest enabler is a properly skilled and empowered workforce. In the digital age, new individual and collective competencies are required. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bob Newhouse, CEO and founder of Agilitiv, drew together recent research and lessons learned from emerging and established compa...
    "IoT is going to be a huge industry with a lot of value for end users, for industries, for consumers, for manufacturers. How can we use cloud to effectively manage IoT applications," stated Ian Khan, Innovation & Marketing Manager at Solgeniakhela, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
    Whether your IoT service is connecting cars, homes, appliances, wearable, cameras or other devices, one question hangs in the balance – how do you actually make money from this service? The ability to turn your IoT service into profit requires the ability to create a monetization strategy that is flexible, scalable and working for you in real-time. It must be a transparent, smoothly implemented strategy that all stakeholders – from customers to the board – will be able to understand and comprehe...
    Everyone knows that truly innovative companies learn as they go along, pushing boundaries in response to market changes and demands. What's more of a mystery is how to balance innovation on a fresh platform built from scratch with the legacy tech stack, product suite and customers that continue to serve as the business' foundation. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, discussed why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue and mor...
    Extracting business value from Internet of Things (IoT) data doesn’t happen overnight. There are several requirements that must be satisfied, including IoT device enablement, data analysis, real-time detection of complex events and automated orchestration of actions. Unfortunately, too many companies fall short in achieving their business goals by implementing incomplete solutions or not focusing on tangible use cases. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products...
    Information technology is an industry that has always experienced change, and the dramatic change sweeping across the industry today could not be truthfully described as the first time we've seen such widespread change impacting customer investments. However, the rate of the change, and the potential outcomes from today's digital transformation has the distinct potential to separate the industry into two camps: Organizations that see the change coming, embrace it, and successful leverage it; and...
    20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
    You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
    The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
    Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...
    Major trends and emerging technologies – from virtual reality and IoT, to Big Data and algorithms – are helping organizations innovate in the digital era. However, to create real business value, IT must think beyond the ‘what’ of digital transformation to the ‘how’ to harness emerging trends, innovation and disruption. Architecture is the key that underpins and ties all these efforts together. In the digital age, it’s important to invest in architecture, extend the enterprise footprint to the cl...