In its Systems Engineering Handbook2, NASA gives the definition: “Systems engineering is a methodical, disciplined approach for the design, realization, technical management, operations, and retirement of a system. A “system” is a construct or collection of different elements that together produce results not obtainable by the elements alone.” Systems engineering is the link between all processes — design, technical management, and product realization — of a project. Without it, projects would never reach their fullest potentials. Figure 1, also excerpted from the NASA Systems Engineering Handbook, shows the 17 main systems engineering processes, broken down by category.
As an example, consider the development of a space vehicle. Electrical engineers will design a power and communications system; software engineers will program the computer architecture to use and control these systems; mechanical engineers will provide structure and stability for the platform; aerospace engineers will build propulsion systems; and many other groups as well will contribute to the complex task. Each of these groups will want to produce the best subsystem they can in their own right, but the best or simplest subsystem will