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The Art and Science of Systems Engineering

Systems Engineering and Sustainability at NASA: Addressing Engineering and Culture


Michael Ryschkewitsch, Chief Engineer, NASA

Within many engineering organizations there can be a tendency to overemphasize getting the process right at the expense of getting the right design. While important and necessary, process is only one part of systems engineering—one that must be appropriately balanced with sound engineering judgment and critical systems thinking.

A need for this balanced picture was identified within NASA, resulting in a multipronged approach to define, document, and communicate the entire systems engineering picture to the general NASA technical workforce. This presentation will describe the results of this effort to define both sides of systems engineering: technical leadership and systems management.

Technical leadership, the art of systems engineering, balances broad technical domain knowledge, engineering instinct, problem solving, creativity, leadership, and communications to develop new missions and systems. Systems management focuses on rigorously and efficiently managing the development and operation of complex systems. In addition, characteristics of good systems engineers and what makes them good "artists" will also be explored. While originally established for the NASA workforce, the principles and examples used in this presentation are applicable to all systems engineering applications.

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MIT System Design and Management Site