Systems Engineering Seminar

Faster, Better, Cheaper – The Fallacy of MBSE?

Presented by:
David Long, President of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015, 1:00 pm
Building 3 Auditorium


Scope, time, and cost – the three fundamental constraints of a project. Project management theory holds that these three dimensions are inextricably linked as competing constraints. To complete a project faster must sacrifice budget or scope (whether explicitly through reduced capability or implicitly through lower quality). Likewise, to complete a project at lower cost inevitably results in longer schedules or reduced capability/lower quality. As the standard saying goes today, “faster, better, cheaper – pick any two”.

When Daniel Goldin became Administrator of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), he championed the cause of a unified “faster, better, cheaper” mentality. Using this management mantra, Goldin sought to save money while simultaneously improving performance and accelerating schedule. In other words, he sought to deliver results seemingly impossible given the “iron triangle” of project management. After multiple mission failures including the twin Mars mission disasters in 1999, the concept of faster-better-cheaper was widely derided, and we once again returned to the model of “pick any two”.

Today, with the rise of model-based systems engineering, the concept of faster-better-cheaper has re-emerged, albeit under new monikers. The standard INCOSE MBSE briefing (MBSE Workshop, February 2010) promises quality and performance improvements with enhanced rigor and precision, improved stakeholder communication, and better management of complexity. Others tout MBSE’s ability to accelerate the systems engineering effort as well as the overall system life cycle.

As we seek to transform the practice of systems engineering to better face the complexities and constraints of today, we must ensure that we maintain our own balance. We must promise improved results in order to justify the cost – and the risk – of adopting new practices. However, we must ensure that we don’t over promise and under deliver, or the legacy of MBSE will be landmark failures rather project success. As we seek to justify the adoption of new technologies and new approaches, are we simply falling into an old trap, retracing the steps of Goldin’s previous doomed journey? Or, through a skillful blend of systems engineering and project management approaches, can we actually achieve the vision of faster-better-cheaper? If so, what frameworks must we adopt as systems practitioners and what changes must we make as project managers?



For over twenty years, David Long has focused on enabling, applying, and advancing model-based systems engineering (MBSE) to help transform the state of the systems engineering practice. David is the founder and president of Vitech Corporation where he developed CORE®, a leading systems engineering software environment. He co-authored the book A Primer for Model-Based Systems Engineering and is a frequent presenter at industry events around the world. A committed member of the systems community, David is president of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), a 10,000 member professional organization focused on sharing, promoting, and advancing the best of systems engineering.


Return to SE Seminars Home


Systems Engineering Seminar Contacts