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Swiss Quality – what does it mean?

Our experience of sponsoring SWISSED18 in Zürich.

By Mike Johnson, 27/10/2018

SWISSED is the Swiss Systems Engineering Day 2018 directed by SSSE, the Swiss chapter of INCOSE.

If you’re reading this, you’re quite possibly a Systems Engineer. Systems Engineers are a bit unique because unlike all of the other kinds of engineers, we don’t engineer the mechanics of a machine, or the software of a computer, or the materials of a bridge. In fact, we don’t engineer things. We engineer systems, which by definition are comprised of several units of things that are regularly interacting with each other and are influenced by a constantly changing environment. There are a lot of moving parts, and you have immovable time, cost and quality constraints

Sometimes, these units are hardware or software – a relatively simple system. Sometimes, these units are evolving documents, facilities or policies – a little more complicated. Sometimes, these units are people – now it’s complex.

So, as a Systems Engineer, we look at the ‘Big Picture’. We need to account for multiple stakeholders. We need to consider wide-ranging engineering domains – structural, electrical, mechanical. We need to create a system that makes sense from all perspectives.

We need to create quality systems. For that, we need diversity, collaboration and responsibility. That’s what we learned at SWISSED18.

DIVERSITY

SWISSED18 brought together many diverse engineers – from Switzerland, Europe and Beyond, all experts of high calibre in a range of domains from big topics like Complexity, Systems Thinking and Design Thinking, as well as some niche yet surprisingly applicable specialities like Quantum Technologies and Disaster Resilience.

This diversity in knowledge gave us comprehensive insights into the contemporary thinking and trends in the wider engineering world. As well, some useful material for speculative conversations on the future of Systems Engineering in Industry which, if nothing else, is great fun!

Of the many conversations we had with people at our booth, four key topics kept coming up:

1.) Project Management 2.) System of Systems and Systems Thinking 3.) Complexity 4.) Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE)

Sometimes, these we’re talked about by the same people in the same conversation, on the same kinds of projects. This further indicates that the world of Systems Engineering is, indeed, diverse by nature. In any given company, a project team will be subject to a list of requirements generated by multiple stakeholders all coming from a range of perspectives. As such, teams are comprised of different people bringing different skills and expertise.

In particular, complex problem solving in the context of people management was a shared experience. As engineers, we’re probably already pretty good at managing time, supply chains and components. But people? This takes the projects further into the domain of complexity where there are lots of changing variables and unpredictable outcome behaviours.

Now, as a Systems Engineer, we also need to know a thing or two about Project Management and Complexity management.

COLLABORATION

So, it makes sense to tailor courses specifically to the needs of those teams: custom-built in-house courses for project teams. And that’s what we’re doing! It may be an intensive course combining two or more of our structured courses, a specific curation of key topics pulled from multiple courses, or an entire package designed from a blank overview… but it will be a training course, just for you.

We’re here to provide the right solutions to our customers. In order to do that, we need collaboration. We need collaboration between the diverse pool of experts in our organisation, and we need collaboration with our customers in order to deliver exactly what they need.

Given the diverse line-up of key note speakers and attending associates, it was inspiring to see fruitful collaborations between some great minds. In particular, ‘Das Design Thinking Handbook’ is a great example of such a collaboration.

Prof. Larry Leifer who delivered the key note on ‘Dancing with Disaster’ sponsored the event with 200 copies of the book made available to all the attendees, which was written in partnership with himself, Prof. Patrick Link and Prof. Michael Lewrick. Here we see a collaboration between the perspectives of mechanical engineering, design thinking and business model innovation.

At the heart of Systems Engineering is the holistic perspective: producing a coherent whole. We believe that collaboration is a key tenet in achieving that goal. As such, we offer a curriculum that span six distinct domains designed to deliver a well-rounded professional development for you.

RESPONSIBILITY

As engineers, we are creators. Perhaps we are not artists. We might be designers… but fundamentally, we create things (or systems. Of systems of things) and we are integral to the object manifestations of the technology and architecture that make up our modern landscape. As a system is influenced by its environment, it also influences its environment.

Indeed, Prof. Patrick Godfrey’s talk on ‘Using Systems Thinking to Address Complex Engineering’ focus on the embeddedness of engineering in a wider system of systems encompassing society, philosophy, science, practice and engineering.

Prof. Godfrey discusses ‘the failure of hindsight’ using the Polcevera viaduct collapse in Italy as an example. Such a phenomenon is when a disaster occurs, we take a look and identify the points of collapse and say ‘this shall never happen again’, and later it does.

A systematic approach to disaster would be to identify what went wrong and apportion blame to find a solution. A systemic approach would be to ask why it went wrong in the first place. In the society domain (which is where this particular disaster occurs), both approaches are required; the public (and politicians) wants to know who is at fault, and we need to actually fix the problem as well. Which we prioritise determines failure or success of hindsight.

Here, we see that engineering has an economic, political and environmental impact. So as engineers, we have quite some say in the world. And so, we also have a responsibility around what we create and innovate.

So what does it mean to deliver quality? It means producing innovative solutions to real-life problems through valuing diversity, humble collaboration and taking responsibility for the ideas and products we put out into the world.

See you at SWISSED19? Great.

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