Spaceship Earth Poster from James Lovelock Centenary Conference

I had a fantastic time at the James Lovelock Centenary Conference last week.

My Poster Paper on Spaceship Earth was accepted, based on the following Abstract. The poster itself is can be seen below.

Spaceship Earth – from attractive metaphor to architectural analogue

Sillitto, H.G.1,

1Sillitto Enterprises and International Council On Systems Engineering, Edinburgh,

“Spaceship Earth” is an attractive and compelling metaphor for our planetary system. Ecologists now have a good understanding of the whole-earth system-of-systems and the many coupled systems that in combination generate its dynamic behaviour – notably the dynamic interactions that maintain an environment hospitable to life. Systems Engineering has emerged as a general technique for realising, managing and retiring “engineered” systems of all sorts. Notably, the Systems Engineering community now has well established architectural patterns and implementation approaches for making successful spacecraft capable of supporting human life during extended self-contained missions.

Ecologists and systems engineers will need to work together to understand the problems facing us in the Anthropocene, and to conceive and implement – indeed, to “engineer”, in its widest sense of “to cunningly contrive” – viable governance systems and intervention strategies for the Anthropocene. The spaceship earth metaphor and the spaceship engineering architectural pattern provide a nearly-shared fuzzy mental model between the communities. Very few members of the public, or engineers, have a good mental model of how Gaia works. Many of both have usable mental models of spacecraft, based on professional experience and/or popular fiction.

The “Spaceship Earth Challenge” seeks to turn a fuzzy metaphor into a formal analogue. It invites participants to develop a formal reference architecture drawing explicit parallels between earth systems and spaceship systems, to allow ecologists and engineers to share mental and formal models, with each other and with the general public. The poster presents current status of our thinking and invites constructive debate.


New INCOSE System and Systems Engineering definitions launched at Orlando

I’m pleased to report that the new INCOSE System and SE definitions were launched at the International Symposium in Orlando last month. I’m told they were well received.
This presentation was used by Patrick Godfrey and Dorothy McKinney to launch the new definitions at Orlando.

Other cool and important stuff I have been doing in 2018

Over the winter, I was doing some work helping to develop a Complex Systems Engineering Framework for the Knowledge Transfer network (KTN), an agency of Innovate UK, which in turn is part of the UK’s Research and Innovation R&D funding agency. The first version of this is now being released, and I’ll be describing it in a presentation to the INCOSE UK Energy Systems Interest Group in Newcastle early in September.

In April I joined a team discussing “What is Systems Science?” at the International Federation for Systems Science biennial “conversation” in Linz, Austria. This was a fascinating experience, discussing how to move systems science from a diverse collection of really interesting ideas and practices to a structured and well-founded “science”. Our team leader was Gary Smith, who compared the current state of systems science to Alchemy, and the desired state to Chemistry. So he had an entertaining slide with the slogan “from Al-systemy to Systemry”. Other groups were working on old peoples’ health, using Beer’s Viable System Model as a template; the future of Model Based Systems Engineering, and model based engineering in general; and the use of systems science to support policy interventions.

I am now finishing off a chapter on “The Nature Of Engineered Systems” for the forthcoming Springer Handbook of Systems Science.

And one of my spare time activities is looking after the website for the Royal Forth Yacht Club. We have successfully transitioned from one web hosting service to another and are getting back to routine operation.

Recent publications – INCOSE

I’ve spent the last two years leading an INCOSE Fellows’ project to review and update the definitions INCOSE uses for “System” and “Systems Engineering”.

Key results of this were presented during the International Symposium in Washington DC in July 2018, and a couple of papers were also published last year, one at the International Symposium in Adelaide, and one in Systems Engineering Journal.

Copies of all of these papers can be viewed using the links below.

NB Links all updated 12 Feb 2020. All should now work!

IS 2017 paper Defining “system” a comprehensive approach
SE Journal May 2017 paper What is a system? An ontological framework
INCOSE Webinar April 2018

( You need to be already logged in to INCOSE Connect for this link to work.)

Webinar 111 – April 2018 – Sillitto – What is a system?
IS 2018 Papers What do we mean by “system”? – System Beliefs and Worldviews in the INCOSE Community (BEST PAPER)

A fresh look at Systems Engineering – what is it, how should it work?

Envisioning Systems Engineering as a Transdisciplinary Venture

Analysis of Results for the Systems Engineering Worldviews Survey

Our final recommendations will be out for review to INCOSE members shortly, and after any useful improvements from this review are incorporated, will be offered for formal adoption by INCOSE over the winter of 2018-19.

If you were unlucky enough to buy an imperfect copy of the book…

December 2017: I learnt that some copies of my book have been sold from with only 288 of the 394 pages – the back of the book is missing.
If this has affected you I can only apologise profusely!
If you bought a faulty copy, and not yet had it replaced by the reseller, please contact College Publications with details of your purchase, using the contact details here

They will arrange for a replacement hard copy to be sent to you, and also a free electronic copy.

For other customers, you can now buy the digital version direct from College Publications using the same link.

New publication

New paper on Tom Walworth’s research on modelling the effect of hidden rework on project performance and systems engineering metrics:

Walworth, T., Yearworth, M., Shrieves, L. and Sillitto, H. (2016), Estimating Project Performance through a System Dynamics Learning Model. Syst Eng, 19: 334–350. doi:10.1002/sys.21349


Monitoring of the technical progression of projects is highly difficult, especially for complex projects where the current state may be obscured by the use of traditional project metrics. Late detection of technical problems leads to high resolution costs and delayed delivery of projects. To counter this, we report on the development of a updated technical metrics process designed to help ensure the on-time delivery, to both cost and schedule, of high quality products by a U.K. Systems Engineering Company. Published best practice suggests the necessity of using planned parameter profiles crafted to support technical metrics; but these have proven difficult to create due to the variance in project types and noise within individual project systems. This paper presents research findings relevant to the creation of a model to help set valid planned parameter profiles for a diverse range of system engineering products; and in establishing how to help project users get meaningful use out of these planned parameter profiles. We present a solution using a System Dynamics (SD) model capable of generating suitable planned parameter profiles. The final validated and verified model overlays the idea of a learning “S-curve” abstraction onto a rework cycle system archetype. Once applied in SD this matched the mental models of experienced engineering managers within the company, and triangulates with validated empirical data from within the literature. This has delivered three key benefits in practice: the development of a heuristic for understanding the work flow within projects, as a result of the interaction between a project learning system and defect discovery; the ability to produce morphologically accurate performance baselines for metrics; and an approach for enabling teams to generate benefit from the model via the use of problem structuring methodology.

Another course adopts “Architecting Systems”

At the INCOSE International Symposium in Edinburgh last week, I was talking to Ron Carson, who like me is an ESEP, INCOSE Fellow, and just winding down at the end of a long and successful career in industry – Boeing in his case. I was delighted to learn that he is using my book for a Masters level Systems Engineering elective that he is delivering for the Industrial and Systems Engineering Department at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Then I heard from Michael Vinarcik, who decided to use my book after considering several other well known systems architecture textbooks, in his course MPD 5050 on Systems Architecture at UDM in Detroit.

The book has also been adopted in other universities, for example the University of Bristol (UK) Sustainable Systems undergraduate masters level module, and the Systems Thinking and Analysis course in the Business Strategy, Leadership and Change MSc at the Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. Outside academia it’s attracting great interest and acclaim from all sorts of people, both from the traditional defence and aerospace systems engineering sector and from completely different communities.