Hazel joined Costain early in 2020 to focus on the promotion and development of systems engineering, systems thinking and systems integration as a vital part of the company’s approach to projects.
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Chief systems engineer
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Systems thinking, systems engineering, systems integration
Hazel joined Costain early in 2020 to focus on the promotion and development of systems engineering, systems thinking and systems integration as a vital part of the company’s approach to projects. She has more than 30 years’ experience in systems engineering and has recently been awarded the Expert Systems Engineering Professional, ESEP, Certification (of which there are only 317 worldwide). She’s spoken at high profile events including the IEEE Requirements Engineering Conference, which brings together researchers, practitioners, and students from around the world and at a NASA internal Systems Engineering Conference.
What led her to systems engineering as a career?
Put simply, curiosity and a desire to ensure things are done well. Hazel explains: “I have the engineer’s innate curiosity and I like to see the big picture. I find it hard to focus on details when there is no context in which to set the task.” For that reason, she’s attracted to roles that give her an opportunity to influence the smooth delivery of a project, which is what systems engineering does.
What does that mean day-to-day?
Hazel’s work varies depending on the client and the project. It may include process definition, requirements management, stakeholder identification, verification or validation planning. She says much of her work is concerned with simplifying data - or asking awkward questions!
Hazel describes systems thinking
Systems thinking can be a challenging concept to explain and people often narrow it down to describe it as one thing, or one technique. But, as Hazel explains, it’s actually a way of looking at the world. “It allows us to understand the interactions, the consequences and the patterns in how the world works. It’s more a philosophy, and then we have tools to help us understand the challenges we’ve identified.”
The difference systems thinking makes
Systems engineering is essential for large and complex systems to be delivered on time, on budget and to a high standard. According to Hazel, it’s not the only thing that’s needed but is a key enabler. She describes it as the glue that binds the other disciplines. “Good systems engineering is a multi-disciplinary approach that ensures there’s fewer unintended effects - that one relatively small component doesn’t go on to have a larger and negative impact on the entire system. That means we can be confident that the end result will meet the underlying needs of our clients and communities. Systems thinking enables us to conceptualise the many interactions and interdependencies in a complex system.”
But she admits, people don’t always see it that way at first: “Like good project management, good systems engineering can be viewed as unnecessary. We do delay action because we’re putting more effort into understanding, so the actions we take will be right first time and this can remove the need for more expensive rework later. In DIY terms, it’s similar to a measure twice, cut once approach!
To convince people of the benefits we have to demonstrate the value we add on small projects first. A clear demonstration of costs not incurred is hard to show - but it’s real.”