Technical Report: Extending Atlas to Non-Defense Systems Engineers and to Classic Engineers

Report Number: Technical Report SERC-2015-TR-110

Report Name: Extending Atlas to Non-Defense Systems Engineers and to Classic Engineers

Publication Date: December 18, 2015


Executive Summary

Beginning in January 2015, the Helix team collected data and conducted analyses to extend the Atlas theory of effective systems engineers beyond the defense business sector as well as to adjacent disciplines. The team conducted interviews with project and program managers and ‘classic’ engineers such as electrical, software, and mechanical engineers. The team investigated whether personnel in these other disciplines had the same characteristics as systems engineers, and where, when, and why these characteristics differed. By looking outside the defense sector to organizations that focus on healthcare, transportation, telecommunications, and information technology systems, the Helix team investigated how the characteristics and roles of systems engineers varied across several different domains and lifecycles.
Atlas was found to be highly relevant to systems engineers outside of the defense sector. This was theperspective of the systems engineers in other business sectors, and by their peers as well. Outside of systems engineering, individuals in related disciplines felt that many aspects of Atlas were applicable to themselves, or would be applicable with some tailoring. (See Section 3 for a summary of version 0.5 of Atlas). Briefly:
• The definition of effectiveness found in Atlas – an individual systems engineer is effective when she consistently delivers value – is applicable to systems engineers across domains. Non-systems engineers agreed that this definition was generic enough to apply to themselves as well; provided that “value” was defined appropriately for their discipline, position, and organization.
• The proficiency model of Atlas is reasonable and comprehensive for systems engineers outside of the defense sector. For individuals in other disciplines, many of the proficiencies are relevant. Though their importance and relevance were generally seen as less critical early in the careers of project managers or classic engineers, several proficiencies were seen as critical to the maturation of senior individuals within other disciplines as well. Math/Science/General Engineering skills were more highly valued by classic engineers throughout their careers; Technical Leadership skills were more emphasized by project managers. However, individuals in all fields agreed that for senior individuals in these disciplines, Technical Leadership, Interpersonal Skills, and SE Mindset were critically important. Of course, the proficiency model would have to be tailored to be fully applicable to additional disciplines.
• There is overlap between value for leaders in classic engineering and project management disciplines and for systems engineers. Though their scopes differ, they often stated that they
provide similar value in terms of supporting integration, big picture, and enabling teams. In general, organizations outside of the defense sector used different business models and worked on
different types of systems – for example, developing systems with much shorter lifecycles – than seen in the defense sector. These different approaches and lifecycle models can provide more opportunities for systems engineers to experience the breadth of systems engineering activities across the lifecycle; this was identified in Atlas as critical for the maturation of systems engineers. These differences provide additional opportunities for systems engineers to grow and mature more quickly.