What is Systems Engineering?

What is Systems Engineering?

What is Systems Engineering and why do we need it?

In the 1950s in the US Ballistic Missile Program, smart people realized that the missiles were too complex and too dangerous to trust the system integration to specialized engineers alone, and that a new body of knowledge was needed that would assure perfect coordination among all disciplines involved.   Thus, the discipline of systems engineering was born.  INCOSE’s definition of Systems Engineering (SE) states:

Systems Engineering is an engineering discipline whose responsibility is creating and executing an interdisciplinary process to ensure that the customer and stakeholder's needs are satisfied in a high quality, trustworthy, cost efficient and schedule compliant manner throughout a system's entire life cycle.

Over the years, Systems Engineering has evolved to a rich and fascinating body of knowledge applicable to all kinds of systems: weapons; space, air, water and ground vehicles; healthcare; infrastructure; energy; transportation; social systems: education, economics, judicial, political; and any other.  

Most of the SE knowledge is non-mathematical, based on experience (heuristics).  The practice is more similar to management and coordination rather than mathematics.  But elements of SE use mathematical, statistical and logical modeling, simulations, and operations research tools. 

The most frequently used elements, tools and processes of Systems Engineering include:

  • Systems Thinking (looking at problems in their context, seeing the big picture, understanding emerging properties and unintended consequences)
  • Rigorous capture of stakeholders’ needs
  • Formulation and management of requirements and specifications
  • Interface management and coordination among stakeholders 
  • System integration
  • System verification and validation
  • Lifecycle management
  • Systems architecting
  • Simulations and modeling
  • Increasingly popular Model Based Systems Engineering
  • Life cycle properties of systems
  • System of systems and complex systems
  • Risk management
  • Project Management
  • Lean and Agile methods.


In recent rankings of engineering salaries, Systems Engineers are at the top of all engineering disciplines!

The average salary of senior Systems Engineers in the United States is $98K. 

We invite you to explore the rich menu of Systems Engineering study options offered by LMU’s Systems Engineering Leadership Program.