Systems Engineering

Systems Engineering Overview

Systems Engineering (SE) is the engineering discipline that focuses on integrating all the key elements of a system into one overall system and managing it throughout its lifecycle from cradle to grave. It focuses on the overall development process of a system that is based on established processes, documented needs, and traceable communications or interaction among the customers, users, engineers, and other stakeholders.

A systems engineer in the DoD will develop, design, allocate, and manage user and system-level requirements (see Requirements Development), lead the development of the system architecture, evaluate design tradeoffs, balance technical risk between systems, define and assess interfaces, provide oversight of verification and validation activities, as well as many other tasks throughout the course of a program. In short, SE is the technical discipline that glues all the pieces together to make the end product.

Definition: Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary engineering management process that evolves and verifies an integrated, life-cycle balanced set of system solutions that satisfy customer needs.

Guide: DoD Systems Engineering Fundamentals

Systems Engineering Goals

The overall goal of SE is to develop and design a system that meets a specific set of requirements (needs) in the guidelines established by the Program Manager (PM).

Systems Engineering Activities

Disciplined SE is accomplished by integrating three (3) major activities. These activities are:

  1. Development phasing that controls the design process and provides baselines that coordinate design effort,
  2. Establishing a Systems Engineering Process that provides a structure for solving design problems and tracking requirements flow through the design effort, and
  3. Life-cycle integration involves customers in the design process and ensures that the system developed is viable throughout its life.

Systems Engineering Tasks

SE is focused on many tasks and products throughout the typical DoD acquisition programs. Below is a list of the main tasks/products that are expected of SE in the DoD acquisition process. For a more detailed list of tasks and products, check out the Systems Engineering Activity Map.

Systems Engineering Process

The Systems Engineering Process is a comprehensive, iterative, and recursive problem-solving process, applied sequentially top-down by integrated teams. It transforms needs and requirements into a set of system product and process descriptions, generates information for decision-makers, and provides input for the next level of development. The process is applied sequentially, one level at a time, adding additional detail and definition with each level of development.


  • There is no one standard definition or systems engineering process. It’s a collection of ways and means across many disciplines. Best practices, guidebooks, and lessons learned are a great source of systems engineering knowledge.
  • Each program is different so there is no one process that perfectly fits. It’s the job of the systems engineer to modify the process to meets their program’s needs the most.
  • IEEE 5288.2 “Standard for Technical Reviews and Audits on Defense Programs” is the standard for technical reviews and audits to be performed throughout the acquisition life cycle for the US Department of Defense (DoD) and other defense agencies.

AcqLinks and References:

Updated: 11/29/2021

Rank: 62.1

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