Rethinking the Systems Engineering Process in Light of Design Thinking

Report Number: SYM-AM-16-024

Series: Acquisition Management

Category: Systems Engineering

Report Series: Symposium Proceedings

Authors: Ronald Giachetti, Clifford Whitcomb

Title: Rethinking the Systems Engineering Process in Light of Design Thinking

Published: 2016-05-01

Sponsored By: Acquisition Research Program

Status: Published--Unlimited Distribution

Research Type: Other Research Faculty

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Keywords: Systems engineering, design theory


The systems engineering process to design and develop new systems is based on a technical rationalization of the design process. This paper contrasts the technical rational approach with the design thinking approach, which describes the principles and methods based on how experienced designers approach design problems. We assert the structure of the design problem changes during development, and one contributor to the challenges that defense programs face in meeting budget, schedule, and performance requirements is the mismatch between the nature of the design problem and the engineering approach. Our position is a variant of contingency theory, contending there is no single best way to approach a problem, and an approach effective in one situation may not be effective in another. This paper reviews the technical rational and design thinking perspectives. The paper then examines the systems engineering process in light of design thinking principles and methods, and the paper makes recommendations to partition development into architecting and engineering, increase the variety and frequency of prototyping, explicitly show iteration in process models, and practice delayed commitment.