Last time we saw that systems engineers are uniquely positioned to use their systems view to capture and understand the vision around a systems design project. Today we consider how they traverse the ground from this natural advantage to a successful implementation process.
Systems engineers must recognize that this advantage brings with it responsibility. As we pointed out previously it is not enough to have vision. There are skills needed to make that vision live and function as the basis of a fully-implemented solution.
Systems engineers must cultivate communication skills. Eliciting the vision from the team that is responsible for creating the design requires sophisticated communication. The systems engineer must be able to draw out the richest contributions and guide the team to constructing the vision from them.
“The discipline of the systems engineering process is a powerful tool in keeping the design aligned with the vision. The systems engineer with excellent communication skills can use them to leverage that discipline and process to keep everyone aligned.”
Once the vision has emerged the systems engineer must communicate it to the implementation team. Having settled what must be done, the team must now decide how it is to be done. This requires that the what remain clearly before the team. That is the responsibility of the leader. Again, it is the systems engineer that is uniquely positioned to do that. The discipline of the systems engineering process is a powerful tool in keeping the design aligned with the vision. The systems engineer with excellent communication skills can use them to leverage that discipline and process to keep everyone aligned.
As the group moves from the “as-is” to the “to-be” basic conflict, management skills enable the systems engineer/leader to make that path safe and comfortable. This helps the team to stay aligned and not fall victim to the issues of inertia and turf that doom many efforts at change and progress. The systems engineer who is skilled and aware in this area can avoid the derailment that can arise from conflict and misalignment.
There are a number of lessons here for systems engineers.
- Systems engineers are uniquely-positioned for the leadership of system design efforts. They have the natural position, training and charge for seeing the “vision” with a systems view. This allows them to understand and communicate the vision to others.
- Systems engineers most often must elicit the vision from stakeholders, owners, customers and the design team. This makes communications skills critical to their work.
- Once the vision is understood, it is the leader’s responsibility to keep it clearly before the group as the design proceeds. That way it can norm and align their efforts. This makes it necessary for the systems engineer/leader to “double down” in communications skills.
- Progress means change and change means conflict. Conflict management experts tell us that conflict is not only an inevitable result of change processes but it is a necessary driver of effective change. Systems engineers who would lead effectively must have the skill to manage conflict.
The bottom line for systems engineers and leadership is that systems engineers are in the best position to provide leadership for systems design/improvement projects. This position comes from their natural alignment with seeing the systems view or vision of the project. But to take advantage of that position, systems engineers must arm themselves with the tools to capture the vision and make it live across the project from concept to implementation. This means acquiring and practicing communication and conflict management skills. Here, as in life, leaders are made – not born. Systems engineers come to the table with advantages but they must actively leverage them to be effective leaders.