Comprehensive Viewpoint

Definition: A broad understanding of the context and environment in which the systems engineering activity or problem is embedded and to be solved. A comprehensive viewpoint enables the ability to develop solutions that consider all aspects of a problem, their relationships and interactions, including current and future needs of the user, customer, and sponsor as well as political, organizational, economic, operational, and technical issues.

Keywords: agility, complexity, domain, enterprise, systems, systems thinking, tools, users

Comprehensive Viewpoint: The Sponsors' Requirement

As a corporation that operates federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), MITRE is required to take a comprehensive viewpoint of all of our work. This requirement is specifically delineated in the individual FFRDC sponsoring agreements, as shown in the excerpts below.

Department of Defense (DoD) Command, Control, Communications & Intelligence (C3I) FFRDC Sponsoring Agreement: "While serving the immediate needs of the many individual programs it supports, the C3I FFRDC aligns its work program to assist in achieving integrated enterprise capabilities [1, p.3]..."

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Sponsoring Agreement: "CAASD [Center for Advanced Aviation System Development] solve problems that are too broad and too complex to...stand alone but are so linked to others that a highly specific analysis may be misleading [2, p. 5]..."

Center for Enterprise Modernization (CEM) Sponsoring Agreement: "...simultaneously direct its efforts to the support of individual programs and projects for enterprise modernization, assuring that these individual programs and projects operate effectively with one another and efficiently support the...objectives of the Government [3, p.3]."

Homeland Security Systems Engineering and Development Institute [SEDI] Sponsoring Agreement: "...shall promote compatibilies across the various homeland security platforms and equipment...through, among other things, improved interoperability and information sharing within the homeland security enterprise [4, p. 2]."

Comprehensive Viewpoint: Leveraging the Corporation

MITRE's sponsoring agreements not only direct us to take a comprehensive viewpoint across the sponsor's enterprise, but extend across all of our FFRDCs to ensure we are formulating national solutions to hard problems. The following excerpts from the CEM sponsoring agreement illustrate this. The other sponsoring agreements contain similar language.

"...ensure that the FFRDC's work programs can be accomplished in a complementary manner that draws on the entire range of corporate competencies [3, pp. 3-4]."

"[MITRE's several FFRDCs]...are operated in such a way as to enhance the technical quality and objectivity of each [3, p. 3]."

Within MITRE, we often refer to this requirement as "bringing the corporation to bear." It is for this reason that MITRE emphasizes collaboration and networking across the corporation. More recently, we have extended this concept to "bringing the world to bear," by which we emphasize collaboration beyond our corporate boundaries to wherever the greatest expertise to solve a problem resides—other FFRDCs, academia, industry, and international partners.

MITRE SE Roles & Expectations: MITRE systems engineers are expected to develop a broad understanding of their problem context and environment. They should consider current and future needs of the sponsor, customer, and operational user, and take into account political, organizational, economic, operational, and technical aspects of the problem and its potential solutions. They are expected to use this comprehensive view to develop, recommend, and lead systems engineering activities in the enterprise. In doing so, MITRE systems engineers consider:

  • Operational needs and the changing global environment that the nation and our operational users must work within, including the collection of systems with which our individual projects interact
  • Technical environment, its rapid evolution and how it influences feasible implementation approaches
  • Economic constraints and processes that influence solutions and their implementation
  • Agendas and perspectives of the stakeholder community (in the customer chain and across the mission and domain areas)
  • International partners and the policies that govern how we work in the international community
  • Data and information needs, processing, security, and applications that are required to get results.

Articles Under This Topic

The article Systems Thinking provides a general introduction to the art and practice of examining the totality of a problem, including the environment in which the problem is contained, as well as the linkages and interactions among the problem's parts. Systems thinking is used in problems in which cause and effect are not closely related in space or time, as well as problems in which the relationships among elements are non-linear. Systems thinking enables alignment of purposes, which is so important to successful engineering of enterprise capabilities because it enables the systems engineer to ask purposeful questions and trace the implications of potential answers across their enterprise.

Increasingly, the complexity we encounter in the enterprises and systems that MITRE helps engineer requires a spectrum of systems engineering techniques. When a system is bounded with relatively static, well-understood requirements, the classical methods of systems engineering are applicable and powerful. At the other end of the spectrum, when systems are networked and each is individually reacting to technology and mission changes, the environment for any given system becomes essentially unpredictable. The article System Engineering Strategies for Uncertainty and Complexity discusses the nature and sources of uncertainty in engineering IT-intensive, networked systems and suggests strategies for managing and mitigating their effects.

There are a variety of cognitive tools to help apply a systems thinking perspective to the increasingly complex problems MITRE encounters. The article Tools to Enable a Comprehensive Viewpoint describes a set of tools to help MITRE systems engineers understand and characterize the nature and source of uncertainty and complexity in their environment.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

  • Look for opportunities to contribute to solving the broader integration and interoperability challenges across your enterprise at the same time you solve your particular project's problems.
  • As you do your day-to-day work, keep your head up to understand where and how your particular activity fits into the larger context.
  • Understand MITRE's systems engineering quality construct [5], and use it to guide the execution of your work activities.
  • Recognize and act on the understanding that a locally optimal solution for a problem may be suboptimal for the enterprise and less advantageous overall than other solutions. For example, working a data strategy across a broader community may preclude a more elegant solution to a particular system application, but the increased value of data sharing and interoperability across the broader community outweighs the benefits of a program-centric solution.

References & Resources

  1. November 21, 2008, DoD Sponsoring Agreement with The MITRE Corporation to Operate the C3I FFRDC.
  2. December 22, 2010, Sponsoring Agreement Between the FAA and The MITRE Corporation for the Operation of the CAASD FFRDC.
  3. February 7, 2008, Sponsoring Agreement Among the IRS and Department of Veterans Affairs and The MITRE Corporation Operating the FFRDC formally known as the Center for Enterprise Modernization.
  4. March 3, 2009, Sponsoring Agreement between DHS and The MITRE Corporation to Operate the Homeland Security System Engineering and Development Institute FFRDC.
  5. Metzger, L., May 2009, Systems Engineering Quality at MITRE, The MITRE Corporation.

Additional References & Resources

"FFRDC Role & Public Interest," MITRE Project Leadership Handbook, viewed February 18, 2010.

"Comprehensive Viewpoints," MITRE Systems Engineering Competency Model, viewed February 18, 2010.

Metzger, L., May 2009, Systems Engineering Quality at MITRE, The MITRE Corporation.


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