Join INCOSE | Renew | Member Login | FAQs | Contact Us | Site Map  
Logo of International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE)
Home About INCOSE Membership Chapters News &
Products &
Education &
Advancing the
Mission and Vision
Leadership Directory
Hall of Leaders - INCOSE Awards
Code of Ethics
INCOSE Foundation
Annual Operating Plan
Policies & Bylaws
Genesis of INCOSE

In 1989 General Dynamics hosted a meeting at the University of California , San Diego , to discuss the apparent shortage of qualified engineers, those who could think in terms of a total system—rather than just a specific discipline—and could implement the systems engineering process. The group concluded that this shortage was of national scope, and agreed to recruit more representatives of government, industry, and academia to examine the problem.

Boeing hosted the next meeting at the Battelle Conference Center , in Seattle , during the summer of 1990. Over 30 individuals attended this meeting, which organized participants into three groups based on their views of systems engineering. Surprisingly, all three groups identified similar concerns, recorded in Table 1.

The group agreed that a national organization was needed to address these concerns. It then adopted a charter, formed ad hoc committees to tackle the issues of Table 1, and formed the National Council on Systems Engineering (NCOSE). Harry Carlson from Lockheed, Jerry Lake from the Defense System Management College , and Brian Mar from the University of Washington were selected as the provisional co-chairpersons. These three, with the help of the council, organized the activities and led the meetings during 1990 and 1991.

The Aerospace Corporation hosted the January 1991 NCOSE meeting in Los Angeles . Over 60 individuals attended this meeting, which included working sessions and a few selected papers. The initial committees reorganized into (1) a Communications Committee to address the transfer of knowledge through various media including national conferences, (2) a Systems Engineering Practices Committee to address process and practices, and (3) a Systems Engineering Development Committee to address education, training, and certification. The committees continued to explore the issues identified in Table 1, with a focus on defining the process as well as educating and training systems engineers.

Table 1. Representative Issues


  • How do you define systems engineering?
  • What is a systems engineer?
  • Who is a good systems engineer?
  • Is it system or systems engineering?
  • Difference between systems engineering, design, integration and management
  • Systems engineering lacks society, journals, and stature.

Process Related

  • Dealing with complexity is a difficult task.
  • Products need more optimization.
  • Is systems engineering a philosophy or a discipline?
  • What is the role of systems engineering in a product life cycle?
  • Benefits of systems engineering need to be documented.
  • How do you measure the health of the systems engineering process?
  • Process may be application-specific.

Product Related

  • Need to optimize requirements, designs, and products.
  • How to manage and trace requirements.
  • Operational concepts lacking.
  • Lack of tools and automation to support requirements development.

Program Related

  • Systems engineering is a people problem.
  • Systems engineering not used to manage the program, only the product.
  • Administrators and managers do not realize need for systems engineering.
  • Organizations and customers inhibit proper use of systems engineering.
  • Too much specialization; specialty integration poor.
  • Interface definition poor.
  • Relationship between systems engineering, concurrent engineering, and TQM.

Training Related

  • Is there a shortage of systems engineers?
  • Who should be trained?
  • Heuristics difficult to learn.
  • Need to train how to function as a team member.
  • Lack of cross-functional education.

Academic Related

  • Lack of clear requirements for a systems engineer degree program.
  • Few systems engineering graduates.
  • Few accredited systems engineering programs.
  • Lack of textbooks on systems engineering.
  • Should all engineering student take a systems engineering course?
  • Systems engineering-oriented programs have different names.

A steering group was created to deal with administrative issues associated with NCOSE as an incorporated council open to national membership. The major decisions of this meeting were (1) to hold the first national open meeting, (2) to sponsor an academic workshop, (3) to develop a position paper on the proposed MIL - STD -499 revision, and (4) to incorporate NCOSE.

IBM sponsored the first academic workshop, held in Rockville , Maryland , during June 1991. This workshop was organized by Odd Asbjornsen of the University of Maryland . The first day featured a number of papers describing different university systems engineering programs and in-house training programs. This was followed by a one-day workshop that addressed: (1) the definition of systems engineering as a process and the development of a professional profile for a systems engineer, (2) tools and computer aids that support systems engineering practice and education, and (3) the design of systems engineering curricula at various levels.

Immediately after the workshop, TRW hosted a business meeting of NCOSE in Alexandria , Virginia , to plan the first annual conference, continue committee work, and pursue incorporation. A major issue was the review and critique of the proposed changes to MIL - STD -499. The council provided a neutral forum for discussion of the 499 proposals since the authors of the changes, as well as government and industry representatives on the 499 steering group, were members of NCOSE. Proposed changes of particular concern were (1) using the systems engineering management plan (SEMP) to define contractual work and (2) the lack of a high- level coordinating organization to resolve conflicting standards. The communication group selected papers for presentation at the first annual NCOSE conference to be held in cooperation with the American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM) in Chattanooga , Tennessee , during October 1991. The Development Group completed surveys of undergraduate and graduate systems engineering programs as well as employer requirements and desired personal characteristics of a qualified systems engineer. The surveys revealed that less than 20 universities offered one systems engineering undergraduate course, and only a few offered two. Most of these courses addressed simulation and optimization rather than the systems engineering process. The NCOSE administrative efforts were formalized to include incorporation, membership, election of officers, and ways and means.

The first annual conference of NCOSE attracted over 100 attendees. Paper presentations addressed practice, process, and tools, and were published in the conference proceedings. During the business meeting that followed the conference, Seattle was selected as the location of the second annual conference, and the newly formed Seattle chapter volunteered to host this conference in 1992. Larry Pohlmann, of Boeing, presented a comprehensive report of the Practices Committee featuring the use of the systems engineering process to develop committee tasks and products. Groups of four to eight individuals were assigned to address specific issues, which included the continued review of policy and standards, the definition of best practices, the search for better automation tools and process metrics, and the identification of pragmatic principles. Groups also recognized the need to diversify the focus of NCOSE activities to include commercial, governmental, and industrial sectors outside of the defense and space sectors.

Now, international workshops and symposia are held annually in all of the sectors where INCOSE has members. Symposia have been held in such locations as Toulousse, France; Rochester, NY USA; San Diego, CA USA; Utrecht, Netherlands; Singapore and Chicago, IL USA, host of the 20th Anniversary symposium in 2010.

Since that initial meeting hosted by General Dynamics in 1989, INCOSE has grown to a thriving professional organization of more than 8,000 members with more than 60 chapters located worldwide. More than eighty Corporate Advisory Board and Academic Council members from industry, government, and academia provide guidance and recommendations, acting as the voice of the consumer for INCOSE. Building on Larry Pohlmann's 1991 report on systems engineering practices, INCOSE's technical activities are now led by a Technical Board with oversight over forty working groups operating under the umbrella of eight assitant directors focused on Initiatives: Standards and MBSE & Knowledge, Processes, Technology, Industry, Academia and Government. Examples of products now available that advance the practice of systems engineering include the Systems Engineering Handbook v3.2.2, the Metrics Guide, and the online SE tools database.


This synopsis updates:

Honour, Eric, INCOSE: History of the International Council on Systems Engineering, The Journal of the International Council on Systems Engineering, (Volume 1, Number 1, 1998), pp 4-13.

Back to the top Back to the top

Content Owner: Resp Group | Last Updated: 3 January 2012
Terms of Use | Privacy Statement