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Systems engineering and project management on common ground

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Around 60 people attended an event in London on the 15th of January that looked to explore the similarities between systems engineering and project management. Attendees were mostly members of APM or INCOSE who had collaborated on the event with the kind support of Thales who provided the venue.

The event was chaired by APM trustee Mary McKinlay and was opened by INCOSE UK president Dr Michael Wilkinson. He described the context of systems engineering and went on to identify some myths and prejudices about systems engineering such as that it is only for large defence and aerospace projects. He said that the true value of systems engineering was that it provided a way of thinking about complex problems, of delivering transformation / enduring change and of bringing together disparate disciplines. He finished by outlining some of the challenges facing systems engineering, one of which is that it tends to focus on technical rather than soft issues.

Dr Wilkinson was followed by APM chairman Mike Nichols who spoke about some of the similarities between systems engineers and project managers and gave examples of where collaboration has been beneficial on the major projects that he has been involved with.

The group then worked on identifying some specific areas that systems engineers and project managers had in common and any mutual challenges.

After lunch, Jim Luffman who is director of bids & projects for hosts Thales, gave a presentation that used a Thales project as a case study on how systems engineering and project management interfaced with each other. He identified six lean enablers for successful systems engineering and project management and then outlined 10 key messages mapped to those enablers. One of these was that despite system subtesting, the majority of serious defects will usually be uncovered during system testing and may peak again during user validation. The antidote is to plan accordingly.

The group then worked on outlining the initiatives that they felt INCOSE and APM should explore to ensure that systems engineers and project managers were able to work effectively together. Over 40 ideas were produced which were grouped into three categories:

  • Production and maintenance of standards and knowledge i.e. presentations, white papers, training courses
  • Dissemination of standards and knowledge through events, seminars, networking opportunities and web content
  • Infrastructure issues i.e. memorandums of understanding between the two organisations and collaboration on the above items

The day ended with representative from INCOSE and APM taking the outputs from the day back to their organisations for review and planning work on the next steps.

One delegate commented afterwards that the event was an excellent omen for future APM/INCOSE collaboration.


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