Hard Things by Easy Words: Basics of System Approach. Part 2

system approach

Fundamentals of the system approach (active concept). System Engineering

The world is constantly moving. Humanity is progressing. The attempts to use the system approach in applied fields brought to the new scientific and applied branch – system engineering.

A long time ago the engineers of Mercedes Benz looked at the application of the systems approach of biologists, who used it in the process of describing biogeocenoses. Taking into account the specific nature of the subject area, in biology, the application of the system approach has proved to be obvious and simple from a practical point of view.

So, in accordance with ISO / IEC / IEEE 15288: 2015 system engineering is an interdisciplinary approach which manages the full technical and organizational effort. This is required to transform a number of stakeholder needs, expectations and constraints in terms of taking a decision as well as support those decisions constantly.

In other words, system engineering is the use of system approach in engineering.
At the same time, the development of system engineering and the needs of the industries led to the formation of a systemic approach in terms of activities.

The concepts of the “objective system” and it’s “objective purpose – goals” got obsolete. Some involved/interested persons (Stakeholders) and their systems of interests and activities appeared in the meaning of the system. The persons involved are figures. If there are no active stakeholders then there is no system of their interests (there is no sense to create something, if nobody needs it and nobody uses it).

System engineers have put lots of efforts into the formation of theoretical aspects of system engineering. As a result in 2015 the standard ISO / IEC / IEEE 15288: 2015 was adopted. In my opinion, the standard turned out to be on a rather high level.
To cut a long story short, here’s what we’ve got: systems are created by humans and used to provide product and/or assistance in the specific environment for the benefit of users and other types of parties. Systems can be formed from hardware and software, data, people, processes, procedures, services, etc.

Illustration of the aspects of the systems approach from the point of view of involved people’s interests.


For example:

  • product (system of interests of end users): automated application for creating a purchase order for performed work;
  • business (system of business owners’ interests): tire service;
  • market (system of interests (environment) of the market, competitors, etc.): car service;
  • environment (system of interests (external business conditions) of the government): legislation of the USA.

Would be great to pay special attention to the locations of key stakeholders in the systems and the criticality of errors in their identification as well as the work with them.

Imagine a question: “Who are the stakeholders of the project?” More than often the answer: you can hear the answer “Gary Rogers, the general director of the holding, who’s responsible how the accounting processes should be automated, etc..” So this is NOT a system approach. It is considered to be a big mistake in business analysis, which can eventually lead to a project failure (the product will be unclaimed by end users).

Though, when we consider the ideas towards the questions where is the product and his end user Mary (orange circle) and where is Gary Rogers and his interests (green circle) – we may say this is the system approach.

It’s not recommended to neglect the hierarchy of systems.

Even if you do not know anything about the system approach and do not clearly see systems, they still exist in accordance with their own laws. Laws are fundamental and unchanging. At any point in time, when deciding and implementing a particular action, one must understand the consequences of this action (this is the causality principle or the cause-effect relationship in the system approach). Depending on whether you know/use them (laws), you can positively or negatively affect the end result (system goals).

To be continued…

See also:

  1. Hard Things by Easy Words: Basics of System Approach. Part 1
  2. System Approach and System Thinking. Any reasons for?

To read:

  1. L. Bertalanffy. General System theory: Foundations, Development, Applications.
  2. R.L. Ackoff, F.E. Emery. On purposeful systems
  3. H.W. Lawson. A Journey Through the Systems Landscape

Author: Veronika Baeva, see original resource in Russian.

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