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"Systems engineering" is a relatively young discipline compared to the earlier, well-known engineering disciplines of engineering, such as electrical, civil, and mechanical. The term can be traced back to Bell Telephone Laboratories in the 1940s. In 1990, the professional society National Council on Systems Engineering (NCOSE) was formed; the name changed in 1995 to the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). Educational programs at that time began adding systems engineering as adjuncts to the specific engineering discipline, evolving into separately identified programs in systems engineering.

1.1 What is Systems Engineering?

In order to answer the question "what is systems engineering?" one must first define the component words. "Engineering" is to layout or construct; to contrive or plan with more or less skill or craft; to guide the course of events. A "system" is a regularly interacting group of items that form a unified whole; an organized set of doctrines, ideas, or principles usually intended to explain the arrangement of the working of a systematic whole. The INCOSE handbook definition of a system is "a combination of interacting elements organized to achieve one or more stated purposes."

"Systems engineering" is focused on considering the whole job or problem. It involves global or universal optimization, finding the "best" answer, making the best plans, starting with your eyes on the finish, and telling the complete story at the appropriate level for the right audience. Before a system is optimized (designed), the objectives must be known. An understanding of what "best" means is needed. Is it “best” performance or just meeting requirements? Is it lowest cost, fastest delivery, lowest risk (performance, cost, and schedule), best valued, longest lived, or a balance of all the above?

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