Technical Report: Atlas 0.6: Expanding on the Theory of Effective Systems Engineers

Report Number: Technical Report SERC-2016-TR-106

Report Name:  Atlas 0.6: Expanding on the Theory of Effective Systems Engineers

Publication Date: April 22, 2016


Executive Summary

Research conducted through the Helix project has now produced version 0.6 of Atlas: the Theory of Effective Systems Engineers. Atlas 0.6 is an incremental step in the evolution of Atlas that provides:

  • Additional details into the Helix methodology, including explanations of the qualitative data analysis techniques the team has employed over the life of the project, and demographics regarding the current, full dataset.
  • Description of the Helix method of career path analysis and visualization, and tools that will enable individuals and organizations to visualize career paths and to perform some level of analysis on their own.
  • Incremental improvements on specific elements of Atlas based on additional analysis of the existing data.

The insights provided in this report are in addition to the insights provided in Atlas 0.5 and so, this report should be read in conjunction with that one. In particular, more information is provided on training (one aspect of the forces), personal development initiatives, and organizational development initiatives. Between this report and Atlas 0.5, all elements of the theory have been analyzed based on existing data. Three specific relevant findings are:

  • In training, 67% of feedback on best practices centered around ensuring that individuals have opportunities to apply learning from training in practice during or immediately after training. Likewise, 17% of the problems with training described issues when training was made ineffective because it was not quickly applied in practice. This aligns with findings from the literature about the importance of the “opportunity to perform” (Burke and Hutchins 2007) for training transfer.
  • Though most systems engineers expressed concerns about the loss to the workforce when very senior systems engineers retire, only about 5% of the senior systems engineers in the sample had created training courses to improve the transfer of their knowledge to others in the workforce. Most senior systems engineers did perform some kind of mentoring, but those who had created courses described this as key to disseminating knowledge more broadly.
  • The factors that stood out as most critical for success of organizational development initiatives were: establishing the right initiatives; effectively spreading the word about initiatives to employees; periodically evaluating initiatives and modifying them when needed; and gaining clear commitment from leadership supporting the initiatives.

The Helix team continues to develop Atlas into a complete and mature theory that may be deployed independently by individuals developing their personal careers in systems engineering, and by organizations developing their systems engineering workforce. Going forward, the team will focus more explicitly on the relationships and interactions between the elements of Atlas and will work with organizations to use and implement the findings of Atlas. The findings and outcomes of these research activities will be reported in the Atlas 1.0 report to be published during late 2016.