SE Life-Cycle Building Blocks


MITRE systems engineers (SEs) orchestrate the complete development of a system—from a need, through operations, to retirement—by applying a set of life-cycle building blocks. SEs are expected to understand and work with fundamental building blocks for engineering systems, regardless of the specific life-cycle methodology used. They are expected to define systems conceptually, transform user needs into system requirements, and develop and assess architectures. They are expected to compose and assess alternative design and development approaches; develop test and certification strategies; monitor and assess contractor efforts in design, development, integration, and test; and assist with field deployment, operations, and maintenance.


All systems engineering models and processes are organized around the concept of a life cycle. Although the detailed views, implementations, and terminology used to articulate the SE life cycle differ across MITRE's sponsors, they all share fundamental elements.

For example, Department of Defense (DoD) Instruction 5000.02 [1] uses the following phases: materiel solution analysis, technology maturation and risk reduction, engineering and manufacturing development, production and deployment, and operations and support; however, this conceptualization of the system life cycle is by no means unique.

ISO/IEC 15288 [2] is an international systems engineering standard covering processes and life-cycle stages. It defines a set of processes divided into four categories: technical, project, agreement, and enterprise. Example life-cycle stages described in the document are concept, development, production, utilization, support, and retirement. The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) uses a consistent approach in its Systems Engineering Handbook [3, p. 25].

The V model [3, pp. 27–28] shown in Figure 1 is a common graphical representation of the systems engineering life cycle. The left side of the V represents concept development and the decomposition of requirements into function and physical entities that can be architected, designed, and developed. The right side of the V represents integration of these entities (including appropriate testing to verify that they satisfy the requirements) and their ultimate transition into the field, where they are operated and maintained. The model used in the SEG is based on this representation. For each phase, we have written articles that succinctly describe the major activities in each cycle. They are summarized below.

Figure 1. V-model
Figure 1. V-model

Concept Development

This first phase is concerned with transforming a user's expression of an operational need into a well-defined concept of operations, a high-level conceptual definition, and a set of initial operational requirements. Articles in this topic area include Operational Needs Assessment, Concept of Operations, Operational Requirements, and High-Level Conceptual Definition.

Requirements Engineering

In this phase, detailed system requirements are elicited from the user and other stakeholders, the requirements are further analyzed and refined, and plans and processes for managing the requirements throughout the rest of the system life cycle are developed. With today's complex systems, the requirements always have a degree of instability and uncertainty so methods to accommodate this are included as well during this phase. Articles in this topic area include Eliciting, Collecting, and Developing Requirements, Analyzing and Defining Requirements, and Special Considerations for Conditions of Uncertainty: Prototyping and Experimentation.

System Architecture

Once the requirements are expressed and folded into a management process, a system architecture can be described. The architecture will be the foundation for further development, integration, testing, operation, interfacing, and improvement of the system as time goes on. In the system architecture articles, we discuss various architecture patterns (e.g., service-oriented architecture), architectural frameworks (e.g., DoDAF [architectural framework]), and formal processes for developing architectures. Articles in this topic area include Architectural Frameworks, Models, and Views; Approaches to Architecture Development, and Architectural Patterns.

System Design and Development

At this point in the system life cycle, a complete and comprehensive description of what and how the system is expected to perform has been developed along with an architectural representation to guide the actual design and development of the hardware, software, and interfaces. Articles in this topic area include Develop System-Level Technical Requirements, Develop Top-Level System Design, and Assess the Design's Ability to Meet the System Requirements.

Systems Integration

During the design and development phase, all of the system's subsystems are complete. In this next system integration phase, the system's components and its interfaces with other systems are integrated into an operational whole. Articles in this topic area include Identify and Assess Integration and Interoperability Challenges, Develop and Evaluate Integration and Interoperability (I&I) Solution Strategies, Assess Integration Testing Approaches, and Interface Management.

Test and Evaluation

Because the system is completely designed at this point, it is now necessary to test. Testing at this phase also involves properties such as reliability, security, and interoperability. Articles in this topic area include Create and Assess Test and Evaluation Strategies, Assess Test and Evaluation Plans and Procedures, Verification and Validation, and Create and Assess Certification and Accreditation Strategies.

Implementation, Operations and Maintenance, and Transition

Finally, to ensure a successful transition of the system into the field, plans and procedures must be developed for operations and maintenance. Because the technological underpinnings of a system are constantly changing, product improvements, including the insertion of new technologies, must be planned for.

Other SE Life-Cycle Building Blocks Articles

This topic is a staging area for articles on subjects of relevance to SE Life-Cycle Building Blocks but that don't neatly fit under one of its other topics. In most cases, this is because the subject matter is at the edge of our understanding of systems engineering, represents some of the most difficult problems MITRE SEs work on, and has not yet formed a sufficient critical mass to constitute a separate topic.

The system life cycle just described is rarely, if ever, as linear as this discussion might imply. There are often iterative cycles, missing phases, overlapping elements, etc. Additionally, processes and activities may apply to more than one phase in a system life cycle, which are better envisioned as threading through or overarching the other building blocks. For these, a series of articles have been written under a topic called Other Life-Cycle Building Blocks Articles. These include Spanning the Operational Space: How to Select Use Cases and Mission Threads, Acquiring and Incorporating Post-Fielding Operational Feedback into Future Developments, Test and Evaluation of Systems of Systems, and two articles on modeling and simulation: Verification and Validation of Simulation Models and Affordability, Efficiency, and Effectiveness.

References and Resources

  1. Department of Defense, Interim DoD Instruction Number 5000.02, November 25, 2013, Operation of the Defense Acquisition System.
  2. ISO/IEC 15288, 2002, Systems Engineering—System Life Cycle Processes.
  3. International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), October 2011, INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook, Ver. 3.2.2, INCOSE‐TP‐2003‐002‐03.2.2.


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