Model-based systems engineering or “MBSE” is being embraced across many different industries as a solution for building superior systems and improving efficiency. While many organizations still cling to document-based legacy systems, teams and companies which adopt MBSE are improving performance, reducing communication problems and cutting costs. Let’s explore some tips you can use to design better systems with model-based systems engineering.
Wait, what’s MBSE again?
If you’re a systems engineer, you probably know what model-based system engineering is (if you’re not already using it). But for the project managers and other decision makers who haven’t learned why it’s such a game-changer, a quick primer is in order.
Model-based systems engineering is a methodology that uses visual models to depict the elements and architecture of a system, as well as the relationships between those elements. It also calls for the adoption of clear, unambiguous terminology and use of the same tools by different teams working in the same system. Another core feature of model-based systems engineering is a single repository of information, which allows teams and individuals at different stages of the System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) to understand what’s going on. When used properly, model-based systems engineering can drastically reduce inefficiency, miscommunication, and keep projects on schedule and under budget.
Tips for Using Model-Based Systems Engineering to Improve Designs
The Design stage of the SDLC is in many ways the most critical. If mistakes are not caught here, they will get passed on to the next stage, and the further down the SDLC any mistake gets the more expensive and difficult it becomes to fix. Luckily, model-based systems engineering allows you to clearly define rules for communication and system architecture in a way that minimizes the chances of this happening. That said, MBSE isn’t a magic wand; if you feed it bad information, or approach it haphazardly, it will not solve your problems. Here are some tips that will help you design better systems using models.
Clearly Establish the Context of Your System. What does this mean? In the Systems Engineering Body of Knowledge (SEBoK), “context” is defined as the “system relationships and environment, resolved around a selected system-of-interest” (Source). What this basically means is that you must define the nature, parameters, and relationships between the different elements you are working with, and the objective they are designed to achieve. This is what allows you to establish the starting point from which you deconstruct all pieces of an existing system in order to design it with model-based systems engineering. An important part of this is making note of whatever assumptions you are including (and excluding) in the model.
Use MBSE software. While it is possible to attempt to follow the MBSE methodology with Microsoft Office or other inexpensive or free programs, this would be counterproductive in most cases. Many times, these programs just simply are not complex enough to do the job properly. A core feature of the model-based approach is getting everyone to use the same tools. If you’re going to adopt this methodology, doesn’t it make sense to ensure that the software your team uses is best suited to that purpose? Software like Enterprise Architect and MagicDraw and SysML (language) are specifically designed for model-based systems engineering.
Always keep V&V in mind. While model-based systems engineering is designed to support the entire SDLC, it is especially beneficial for Verification and Validation (V&V). The simulation tools included in some of the modeling programs mentioned above are very effective at supporting the V&V process. While every engineer worth their salt knows that there is no stage of the SDLC where they should be phoning it in, perhaps nowhere is this more important than the V&V stage. It’s literally the last stage in the process where the design is put to the test and you find out if it really works, or if you need to go back and fix it. You want to make sure that you get it right, MBSE is the best way to make sure you get the most of V&V.
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