Integral Logistics Management — Operations Management and Supply Chain Management Within and Across Companies

Course 19 – Systems Engineering and Project Management

Intended learning outcomes: Explain systems engineering. Disclose project management.

System is defined in [MeWe18] as a regularly interacting group of items (or set of elements) forming a unified whole.

Merriam-Webster lists further definitions, which all revolve around “arrange­ment,” or “organization.” In the narrower sense, a system describes complex phenomena in the real world, such as the solar system or the periodic table of the chemical ele­ments. But abstract phenomena can be also described as systems, such as:

  • Numerical systems or systems of equations in mathematics
  • Theories and models
  • Electrical, pneumatic, or hydraulic systems
  • Social systems
  • The organization of a company or the national economy

In the following, a company is understood as a sociotechnical system. The elements them­selves — that is, the human beings (the focus of the social part system), production machin­es, materials, and so on (the focus of the technical part system) — and their relationships both within the system and with the surrounding systems (environment) are complex in nature. Parts of a company — for example, production — can also be viewed as systems.

Systems theory deals with general characteristics of systems. For example, a dynamic system refers to a system with interactions among the elements of the systems. Open dynamic systems refers to systems in which the elements also interact with other elements in the system environment (as opposed to closed systems). Systems thinking in general systems theory can be applied to the special company systems theory. Production in an industrial company, for example, is typically an open dynamic system. The interactions are formed through the flows of goods, data, and information. See here also [Züst04] and [HaWe18].

In analogy to the product life cycle, the system “company,” or its part systems, also have a life cycle. What makes up the system life cycle? What problem-solving techniques are used? These questions will be covered in the section below on systems engineering.

Systems engineering (SE) is a method, based on some models and procedural principles, for enabling appropriate and efficient realization of complex systems, to which systems in a company also explicitly belong [HaWe18].

Systems engineering is thus a systemic method for the realization of systems.

A project is a scheme, plan, or planned undertaking (from the Latin projectum, or that which is thrown forward) [MeWe18]. For use of the term in practice, [PMBOKD] defines project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. [ASCM22] defines a project as an endeavor with a specific objective to be met within the prescribed time and dollar limitations and that has been assigned for definition or execution.

In contrast to operations or processes in the company, which are recurrent and ensure “normal” business operation, such as, for example, the processing of sales orders, projects are undertakings that

  • have a definite start and end
  • create something new and in that sense are unique
  • require resources (such as persons, equipment, money) that are most often limited in availability, absolutely and also often on the time axis.

Some examples of projects from business life and personal life are

  • Introduction of a new business process
  • A change in structural organization
  • Development of a new product
  • A research project to investigate a certain phenomenon
  • Planning a trip around the world
  • Redecoration of a room in your house

While a project may contain parts that were already parts of other projects, the result of a project as a whole is unique. For instance, any single bridge can be seen as a unique construction, although some components can be identical in many bridges.

Project management is the organizing, planning, scheduling, directing, controlling, monitoring, and evaluating of prescribed activities to ensure that the stated objectives of a project are achieved. See also [ASCM22].

Project management is thus a systematic approach to ensure the effectiveness of a project and the efficient use of resources. On the basis of these definitions, we can derive the following connections:

  • The realization of a system in a company virtually always has a unique character, creates in addition something new, and requires limited resources. The realization of a system can be seen as a set of projects, which can be handled — in particular where system complexity is high — by project management.
  • Not every project has to be seen as realization of a system. The planning of a world trip or a research project investigating a specific phenomenon, for example, utilize methods and techniques of project management but not necessarily the methods and techniques of systems engineering.
  • Simple projects do not necessarily have to be accompanied by project management. In private life especially, the project may affect only one single person. A person redecorating a room at home — this being the realization of a system, even — often takes a less systematic approach.

The two sections that follow below look at the methods of systems engineering for the realization of systems and the methods of project management for effective and efficient execution of projects.

Course 19: Sections and their intended learning outcomes

  • Course 19 – Systems Engineering and Project Management

    Intended learning outcomes: Explain systems engineering. Disclose project management.

  • 19.1 Systems Engineering

    Intended learning outcomes: Explain systems thinking and the top-down approach. Describe phases of life of a system and the system life cycle. Present in detail the problem solving cycle. Disclose the differences between software engineering and classical systems engineering.

  • 19.2 Project Management

    Intended learning outcomes: Present goals and constraints of a project. Describe project phase, project life cycle, and work breakdown structure. Explain scheduling and effort planning as well as organization of a project. Differentiate between cost, benefits, profitability, and risk of a project.

  • 19.3 Summary