Systems Engineering: It’s A Bit Like Golf

SOUTHFIELD — A systems engineering expert used familiar
golf sayings to describe systems engineering concepts at a monthly meeting of the Michigan Chapter of the International Council on Systems Engineering Thursday night at ESD Headquarters in Southfield.

Dave Walden, lead editor of the newly released fourth edition of the INCOSE Handbook, said there are plenty of parallels between golf, invented in 15th-century Scotland, and systems engineering, which originated as a military standard tying different engineering disciplines together.

Walden, who owns the Minnesota systems engineering firm Sysnovation LLC, gave the following examples:

* “It matters what you do before you play the round.” In short, train. Don’t try out a new swing on the golf course. Don’t try out new systems engineering concepts on an important project.

* “Know the course.” Study the project before you begin.

* “Drive for show, putt for dough.” This old saying means that the best golfers frequently putt better than they hit the driver off the tee. Golfers use their driver 14 times a round, but their putter as many as 36. The short strokes are the most important. Similarly, the shorter, less glamorous steps to a successful systems engineering project are very important.

* “Trees are 90% air.” This is frequently said by a golfer trying to hit through a tree blocking the path to the green. Fact is, that’s hardly ever a good idea. Systems engineers have to make tough decisions and stick to them.

* “Sometimes it is better to lay up.” In other words, don’t try to hit an impossible shot. Or try the impossible in a project.

* “A short putt never goes in.” So don’t ever hit one less hard
than you need. And in a project, always do more than the minimum.

* “Every hole is a new hole.” In other words, don’t bring the baggage of your last failure along with you. Don’t repeat your mistakes, but don’t dwell on them, and move on. Better yet, learn from others’ mistakes.

* “Scramble teams do much better than any one person.” In a golf scramble, everyone hits from the best shot of the four participants on a team. And systems engineering is a team activity, so make sure you have the right team in place. Leverage each other’s strengths and accommodate each others’ weaknesses.

* “It matters what you sign.” Golfers who forget rules or fudge on scorecards face big penalties. So remember the rules, and don’t sign anything that goes against them.

* “Clubs are NOT the limiting factor of my game!” Some golfers feel a better club will make them a much better golfer — but they’re rarely right. In systems engineering, that means avoiding over-
reliance on tools — as the saying goes, “A fool with a tool is still a fool.”

* “Replace your divots.” “Reseed the tee box.” In golf, that means take care of the course to ensure it stays in good shape. In systems engineering, that means give back and mentor the next generation.

More about Walden’s business at http://www.sysnovation.com. More about the Michigan INCOSE chapter at http://www.incose.org/ChaptersGroups/Chapters/ChapterSites/michigan/chapter-home.

Also at the event, Matt Roush, ESD Director of Communications and Public Relations, gave a brief presentation to the group about the programs and services of the Society.

Walden was to give an indepth presentation on the new systems engineering handbook at ESD Friday.

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