Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering
Dr. Ralph R. Young, Editor, SyEN
This month we provide a summary of Chapter 5, Key Concepts in Integration, in Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering (IPMSE), a collaboration of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), the Project Management Institute (PMI), and the Consortium for Engineering Program Excellence (CEPE) at the Massachusetts (USA) Institute of Technology (MIT).
Integration of program management and systems engineering is a critical issue for all systems engineers because the current approach of systems development and project management is not sustainable.
Integration is a reflection of the organization’s ability to combine program management and systems engineering practices, tools and techniques, experience, and knowledge in a collaborative and systematic approach in the face of challenges, in order to be more effective in achieving common goals and objectives in complex program environments.
Eisner characterizes a high degree of integration between project management and systems engineering by:
- Strong and effective teams.
- Commitment to “getting the job done”.
- Deep interest in the technical issues.
- Constructive problem solving.
- Corporate support for the needs of the project.
- Little or no complaining.
- Short and productive meetings.
- Rapid flow of information.
- Effective computer support.
- Involved and happy people.
Eisner argues that integration can be realized on different complementary levels: managers, teams, plans, the systems approach, methods and standards, information systems, and enterprises can act as integrators. These characteristics of integration between program management and systems engineering tend to focus on behaviors and observable outcomes and to not address the integration of the work itself – how tasks are structured and performed. That criticism could also be levied against organizational and management theories. Nevertheless, the similarities between these characteristics and those found in organizational theory and in the case studies in ‘The Book’ are confirmatory regarding the general characteristics and attributes to be emphasized in defining the integration between program management and systems engineering disciplines.
You might consider which of the above integration elements seems relevant in your experience. How would you gauge the level of integration between program management and systems engineering in your project, program, and organization? Does your organization have a formal and deliberate approach to integrating the program management and systems engineering disciplines? What new formal practices would you add to further strengthen and improve project and program success? Do you believe that true integration between disciplines results from applications of leading integrating practices or from an underlying orientation toward integration?
Part of the challenge in achieving integration is having as a starting point a useful, multifaceted understanding of what integration between these disciplines entails. It is more than just having and employing a set of accepted practices or standards. Integration reflects a state of and organization and its operations. As such it is not a simple concept, but rather a multidimensional indication of a number of attributes, activities, and orientations in operation within the organization. One can generate a list of practices associated with integration – many do – and such a list may be temporarily helpful, but perhaps ultimately distracting from the real work in organizations that is demanded by true integration.
The research indicated that integration positively impacts program outcomes.
The stakes are high – society desperately needs programs to be more successful than they are currently. In the future, the need for the programs that support and deliver these complex socio-technical systems to be successful may have societal impacts. Outcomes associated with the prevailing approaches to integrating these functions suggest that there remain significant opportunities for improvement. There are real reasons why integration is challenging, ranging from the way professionals gain, maintain, and update their skills, to the organizational environments and processes in which these professionals are engaged. The good news is that there are numerous examples of organizations that produce exceptional outcomes by operating in a more integrated fashion. They offer many lessons about how to achieve this level of performance by describing the strategies, policies, and methodologies used to achieve a higher level of integration, and thus better outcomes for the organization and its projects and programs.
I encourage you to get ‘The Book’ and to digest the discussion on pp. 69-76 concerning why the divergence between the Project Manager and the Chief Systems Engineer is a major problem. In my opinion, doing so will strengthen your capabilities and contributions.
 Eisner, H. Essentials of Project and Systems Engineering Management (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008.