The most modern yet outdated definition of systems engineering is given in the Systems Engineering Body of Knowledge Guide. The short definition: systems engineering is an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems. In this definition we can emphasize:
- Successful systems are what systems engineering creates. The word “successful” is extremely important here and has a special meaning. It means that the resulting project system takes into account the role needs of the people affected by the system and its project, as well as the needs of the people affected by the system and its project. If the preferences of all these people in the roles of customers, payers, users, and others are taken into account, this will be “success”. Thus, success here is not defined by domestic, financial, environmental, or whatever. Still, precisely through the acceptability of the result of the project to the many people-roles, success is defined as “agreed with everyone, everyone is happy”.
- The word “systems” is used in a very special way: “systems” from the systems approach. For systems engineering, the word “system” is about the same as “physical body” for Newtonian mechanics — if you said “physical body” about a computer, that automatically implies talking about mass, potential energy, modulus of elasticity, temperature, etc. If you said “system” about a computer, that automatically entails talking about system levels, roles and their concern preferences, requirements and architecture, life cycle and enabling, etc. All of these concepts will be covered in detail in our book.
- Interdisciplinary approach — systems engineering claims to work with all other subject engineering specialties (however, not only engineering). But this is an outdated part of the classical definition; more modern definitions use another word: transdiscipline, which means external, “otherworldly” concerning a variety of other disciplines, rather than being in one row, “between” other disciplines. Transdisciplinarity is a very strong claim; it means that systems engineering is part of many different other applied disciplines, it is not “equally represented” with them but is used directly within the thinking of those disciplines. Systems engineering by virtue of its transdisciplinarity can harness a horse and a trembling doe (for example, people in the roles of mechanical engineers, ballisticians, cryogenics, psychologists, medics, astronomers, programmers, etc. in manned space projects, who will use systems engineering concepts to coordinate their work).
- The word “realization” (“translation into reality”) literally means this: the creation of material (physical, i.e., from matter and fields) successful system. We are talking about changing the physical world; it is not just a matter of design and other informational work; the project goes out into physical reality and changes it.
This quote is taken from the Systems Thinking 2020 online course.