Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering

A new book has just been released: Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering (IPMSE). This book was five years in the making, provides insightful new research, and is 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 Institute of Technology (MIT). Every once in a great while, a book comes along that is destined to have a huge impact.

I have invested a considerable amount of time over the past month carefully reading this book, digesting it, exploring references, and starting to act upon new knowledge. I believe that this book has the potential to significantly improve program results. Commitment is needed from program managers and systems engineers to build collaboration. I ask your consideration in becoming part of the initiative to strengthen collaboration and change mind sets.

"The Book" has features that are useful and content that is thought-provoking (for example, in considering the impact of making changes in your program, on your project, and at your organization):

  • The Dedication is an acknowledgement to all those who are helping to advance
    integrated approaches to successfully deliver value through well-executed complex

  • The Table of Contents is detailed and well organized. The content of The Book is
    presented in four parts:

Part I: In Search of Integrated Solutions

Part II: Building Capabilities to Effectively Execute Complex Programs

Part III: Developing Organizational Competencies in Your Organization

Part IV: Calls to Action:

  1. For Academia: Help Budding Professionals Learn to Adapt
  2. For Enterprise: Build the Right Engine for Strategy Implementation
  3. For Policymakers: Refocus Oversight and Accountability in the Right Ways
  4. For Industry and Professional Societies: Take an Interdisciplinary View
  5. For Researchers: Explore Interdisciplinary Systems

  • The Foreword, Practices, Knowledge, and Innovation, is provided by Larry Prusak.
    He clarifies the primary challenge that is addressed in this book: How do you successfully bring together two different ways of knowing and doing to accomplish a critical role? He defines "practices" as the vocabularies, work habits, accumulated historical stories, interfaces and entanglements with technology, and our deep understanding concerning the best way to do things. Practices evolve by incorporating new ideas, perspectives, and tools so that they remain relevant. He advises that this book is a wonderful attempt to see what two established and valuable disciplines, program management and systems engineering, have to offer to one another, to their customers, and to society.

  • The Preface, provided by Alan Harding (President of INCOSE) and Mark Langley (President & CEO, Project Management Institute), reports that in 2011, INCOSE and PMI allied to enhance, foster, and enable collaboration between program managers and systems engineers. Leaders in the two organizations believed that the two disciplines had developed silos between them that inhibited collaboration and that an urgent priority is to change mindsets to remove barriers. Historically, program managers and systems engineers have viewed the stakeholder problem entirely from within their own disciplinary perspectives. As a result, the two groups have applied distinctly different approaches to the key work – managing the planning and implementation, defining the components and their interactions, building the components, and integrating the components. The organizations partnered to explore issues concerning the extent of collaboration between the PM discipline and the SE discipline, in particular, does integration and collaboration demonstrably impact program performance? Also, are alignment, integration, and collaboration embedded in the organizational culture, processes, and systems? The two leaders emphasize that senior executives within corporations, governments, professional associations, academia, and research must also change their mindsets. They must see the connections between strategy, benefits, performance, and capabilities, and work within their organizations to remove gaps and improve performance. They must recognize the value their organizations could gain from even incremental efforts to reduce wasted investments due to poor program execution. They must ensure their organizations learn from examples of success and failure (case studies of both are provided), and utilize that learning to continuously improve their own practices. Most importantly, they must stand with their program managers and chief systems engineers and lead the change toward a new mindset.

  • The Acknowledgements reflect that developing The Book was itself a significant collaborative effort that involved many individuals and institutions during the course of the last five years – many perspectives were brought together to create something unique and noteworthy. In the case of this book, it is correct to say that many hands made superior work – this is the message and the experience of this effort.

The Introduction describes the background that led to the collaboration of INCOSE, PMI, and MIT's CEPE; to creation of The Guide to Lean Enablers for Managing Engineering Programs (Oehman, 2012); and to the writing of the book. The research basis for the book unfolded through four distinct phases over a period of three years. The initial research results from analysis of the data were informative, but raised more questions than they answered. The initial findings just scratched the surface of what appeared to be an important but largely unaddressed area. A four-phase research program emerged. In Phase I, an invitation to participate in a joint PMI and INCOSE survey in 2012 was sent to approximately 3,000 INCOSE members (systems engineers) and 5,000 PMI members (program managers). While a number of useful insights emerged from this analysis, the connection between integration, unproductive tension, and overall program or organizational performance remained unclear at this stage. The action mechanisms for enabling greater levels of integration were likewise unclear. The survey provided a good starting point to understand high-level issues associated with integration of program management and systems engineering. In order to clarify the mechanisms of integration and the impact of integration on performance, additional information about how integration actually occurred in organizations was needed and led to the Phase II and III studies. Phase II of the research focused on those organizations that experienced little or no unproductive tension between program management and systems engineering. Phase III involved a separate sample of respondents that indicated high levels of unproductive tension in their organizations. This study was inductive, with effort primarily focused on identification of the key factors that drive overall behavior. Analysis of the data produced more formal definitions of integration and unproductive tension. The Phase IV study involved an online survey and sampled 157 participants from around the world and included program managers and systems engineers. The results provided a better understanding of what factors contribute to integration. While much has been learned, research on the integration of program management and systems engineering should be considered at this point in the early stages of theory development and understanding. An Integration Framework was developed that lays out learnings (factors) that seem to provide integration.

  • Each Chapter has:

  1. An introduction that places the topic of the chapter in context: how it impacts the integration of program management (PM) and systems engineering (SE).
  2. Carefully developed figures and tables that provide rich amplification of the text.
  3. References to other chapters (not surprisingly, the book itself is integrated!).
  4. Bulleted lists that provide specific takeaways.
  5. A summary that provides a concise explanation of the importance of the topic of the chapter.
  6. A list of Discussion Questions that encourage the reader to reflect on his or her own experience and perspective to reinforce learning and to open possibilities for new thinking.
  7. A list of applicable References – the references are on-topic and provide extensive examples and opportunities for further research and understanding. *You will be surprised to learn of the availability of insightful publications both very recent (many of them written to report on research undertaken to answer questions for this book) and not-so-recent but apropos.*
  8. A short list of Additional Resources that serve as icing on the cake of learning opportunities.

  • An Afterword: Toward An Integrated Future is provided that is an admonition to individual practitioners to reflect on the messages of the book, develop a plan of action, and proceed with actions to create better integration between program management and systems engineering in their own sphere of influence.

  • The Glossary provides a comprehensive list of usable, useful definitions.

  • The Index is thorough: one is able to locate topics easily.

As is my habit, I took copious notes while reading The Book. One form of those notes is a Table that summarizes the content of the book. The table is attached – it addresses what is different about an integrated approach from that which is often used today, termed “Less Successful Approaches”. Many complex programs have been successful and the book provides examples and case studies concerning them as well as exhaustive research concerning what can be done to further strengthen and improve the practice of systems engineering going forward.

I hope that (if you haven't already) you will join the movement to continue efforts to transition to an integrated approach. As you likely already understand, it is going to take time and concerted efforts on the part of program managers and systems engineers to implement needed change. Strategy Implementation is defined as the collective organizational effort to execute strategy by investing in the right initiatives to deliver desired business benefits.

The bottom line is that the current situation [today's program management and systems engineering implementation] is not sustainable. At the top level, the following are some of the things that are needed:

  • Respect for people.
  • Organizational culture that values people and their capabilities.
  • Executive leaders with integrity who foster and expect trust.
  • Empowerment.
  • Collaboration.
  • Requirements management.
  • Risk management, mitigation, and back up plans.
  • Processes, methods, tools, techniques, and systems support that are fit for duty.
  • Ongoing training and people development.
  • Team competency.
  • Knowledge.
  • Alignment and coordination of the extended enterprise.

Download PDF "What's Different about an Integrated Approach?"