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Stevens Institute of Technology

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November 20, 2011

Systems Engineering for an Agile and Lean World

Two new SERC research projects are working to bridge the gap between traditional systems engineering and the increasingly fast pace of system development. Expedited Systems Engineering is creating a conceptual framework based on existing rapid development projects, using examples across the Air Force, DOD, NASA and industry. The Effectiveness of Kanban in Systems Engineering is simulating an unconventional approach that combines lean engineering concepts with a services approach to systems engineering to better integrate SE into rapid–response software application development for the intelligence community.

Rapid capability and urgent needs are developed in response to changing threats. Urgent needs programs are driven by “time to market” as opposed to complete satisfaction of static requirements and delivery is expected in days/months versus years/decades.  The hypothesis is that by defining, identifying, testing, and ultimately implementing expedited SE processes and practices, capability that results from urgent needs may actually be more effective, efficient, and longer lasting in the field.  Similarly, the framework may be applied to more traditional acquisition programs with a desire to incorporate scaled rapid development best practices. 

Debra Facktor Lepore, PI of the Expedited Systems Engineering task, says “This project and related work perfectly aligns the SERC with the Air Force’s new Strategic Plan for Systems Engineering.” The framework will examine tailoring and scaling of SE activities in response to different development constraints, such as reduced development time. The project will identify and study a number of expedited projects across DoD, analyze them for both common and extraordinary practices, develop the framework and an approach for validating its effectiveness. Dr John Colombi of The Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) is the co-PI on this research.  The SERC Research Council is is also involve by analyzing the state of the art, reaching out to their colleagues across the nation to identify the best projects, and providing new ideas based on their deep understanding of both the process and the problems.

Marrying the ideas of a services perspective with a lean-inspired pull scheduling technique such as kanban, is a radical departure from the normal concepts of systems engineering. The reason for adopting it, explains Richard Turner, PI for the Kanban in SE task, is the environment. “In an existing complex system constantly evolving through rapid-response software application development, systems engineering is the glue that holds all of the various projects together. It is critical that it be integrated into the various projects without unduly delaying them, and that the limited resource of systems engineering skills be efficiently and effectively deployed so as not to unduly delay any particular project and still meet the overall system priorities. The services approach better integrates SE into the development cycle, and the kanban-based scheduling maximizes the value flow of the systems engineering tasks performed.”  This project is developing the combined approach and then simulating it with an agent-based model of the environment and typical work streams to determine if the idea is sound enough to actually pilot in an operational environment.

For more information, please contact:

Debra Lepore
Industry Professor; Program Director, Technical Leadership; Director, Strategic Programs, Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC)
Debra.Lepore@stevens.edu

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