Do You Think Like a Systems Engineer?

Systems Engineering is Everywhere

By Susan S. Askew, PE, CSEP and Rebecca Falcon, PMP, CISM, Black Swans Rising, LLC

As my family began our annual Holiday Gingerbread Project, we realized just how much engineering went into this tradition. As I thought about other holiday endeavors, I couldn’t help but notice all the elements of systems engineering in things we do every day, not just at work.

Have you thought about how you, your systems or processes or activities, fit into the world around us, and the effects that can result from your short and long-term decisions? We should!  A system can be comprised of people, products, services or processes, information, or really anything in our physical environment.

The world is a constantly changing, complex system of systems. We can’t just do one thing and not have it affect something else! Anyone who has worked on a big holiday meal knows how challenging the orchestration of all the parts can be – so that all the desired dishes are available and ready at the same time, that there are enough plates, chairs and tables, decorations in place beforehand. No one thing is isolated – they share resources (kitchen), are all connected to the larger purpose (the meal) or even higher function – the family gathering and socializing event. The desired outcome is hopefully a wonderful experience for all. And Grandma always made it look so easy.

Many careers require systems thinking: Event planners, city planners, store managers, architects, hotel managers, medical professionals, teachers, construction crews and builders, artists and musicians. All offer a chance to think like Systems Engineers – keeping a focus on the whole system and the end purposes in mind while doing the job every day. When we see ourselves as one smaller part of a much greater world, we can look for ways we can interact with the other systems around us, and make things better, avoid obstacles, be more efficient, or add more beauty and joy.

You don’t have to have a degree in Systems Engineering to think like one. Seek to understand the interrelationships between all things, processes, and people over time, and you’ll end up being better at whatever you choose to do. Just keep asking: Why are we doing what we are doing? What are we really trying to achieve and why? Keep your eyes on the long-term and higher-level objectives and look for how what you do each minute contributes to those goals. You are part of something amazing, so do it well and enjoy the ride!

For more resources on formal Systems Engineering training:

INCOSE local chapter

Calhoun Community College Systems Engineering Technology (SET) program and classes

UAH’s Systems Engineering degree programs and classes

Susan Askew and Rebecca Falcon live and work in South Huntsville. Black Swans Rising (BSRi) serves businesses and education communities with business operations and management consulting services and products, partnering with clients to develop their sustainable and innovative solutions.

For more information on what BSRi can do for your organization, contact
“Black Swans Rising – Delivering the Unexpected”

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