The conference of the Systems Engineering Society of Australia (SESA) and the Southern Cross Chapter of the International Test and Evaluation Association (ITEA), presenting as the 2015 Systems Engineering and Test and Evaluation (SETE 2015), was held in Canberra over three days in late April.
With an increasing interest in the application of model-based systems engineering, and in accord with the thrust supporting this approach laid out in the Vision 25 document from INCOSE, there were many sessions and streams addressing this general topic.
Also gaining significance within the systems engineering community is the importance of systems thinking and associated methods to “prepare the ground” for the application of mainstream systems engineering. Two, half-day tutorial sessions reflected this significance, both dealing with the challenges of solving the right problem.
The first, “Systems Thinking for Systems Engineers”, was presented by Dr Sondoss ElSawah from UNSW Canberra. Having defined “wicked” problems as prime targets for systems thinking, being problems involving conflicts and ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty, Dr ElSawah moved on to define the fusion of thinking and systems as:
Reflective/learning/multi-level action to make use of knowledge (different types, disciplines and dimensions) (THINKING)
systems components, context, relationships, purpose and boundary (SYSTEMS)
Several tools to apply systems thinking were then explored, including cognitive mapping (an individual perspective), concept mapping (a collective perspective) and causal loop diagrams.
The second tutorial involved exploration of the “Soft Systems Methodology – Systems Thinking Aid to Requirements Engineering”, presented by Dr Alan McLucas from UNSW Canberra. Soft Systems Methodology (SSM), very much allied to systems thinking and based on the original work of Checkland (1981), is needed because “regardless of how strongly we might believe it and are committed to it, we cannot assume that our personal worldview is the only one that matters, and hence is to be the only basis for designing a system.” On a broader level, SSM:
Focuses on problematic real-world situations calling for action which will produce improvements to the current situation
Formulates models of purposeful activity (PAMs) which are possible alternate strategies to produce improvements in the current situation
Creates structured debate about desirable and culturally feasible change
Dr McLucas walked through the various steps of SSM including the development rich pictures and purposeful activity modeling.