Mission & Objectives

The purpose of the Complex Systems Working Group is to enhance the ability of the systems engineering community to deal with complexity.  The Complex Systems Working Group works at the intersection of complex systems sciences and systems engineering, focusing on systems beyond those for which traditional systems engineering approaches and methods were developed.

The Complex Systems Working Group focuses on the challenges and opportunities presented by systems with large numbers of components, with even greater numbers of interactions distributed in scope across multiple scales and/or across large areas.  Systems of interest are characterized by rich interdependence among diverse components, non-linearity, open systems boundaries, networks of causality and influence (vice linear causal chains), emergence, varied and changing system goals, self-organization, and multi-level adaptation.  These traits limit the utility of traditional systems engineering paradigms, which are generally centralized, goal oriented, requirements driven, and reductionist in approach. These traits, however, are increasingly the norm and not the exception. The Complex Systems Working Group collaborates with the Systems Sciences Working Group to define the scientific basis of these characteristics.

Further, complexity is a characteristic of more than just a technical system being developed.  The socio-technical ecosystem in which a system under development will be employed exhibits these attributes, as does the environment that gave rise to the challenge or opportunity to which the system was developed in response.  Further, the design and development of technical systems is a complex endeavor itself.  It is critical for systems engineers to understand the nature of the systems with which they are working, and of which they are a part, to be effective. 

The goals of the Complex Systems Working Group are to communicate the complexity characteristics to systems engineering practitioners, provide knowledge and expertise on complex systems in support of other INCOSE working groups working in their systems engineering areas, facilitate the identification of tools and techniques to apply in the engineering of complex systems, and provide a map of the current, diverse literature on complex systems to those interested in gaining an understanding of complexity.  



Dr. Jimmie McEver, JHU Applied Physics Laboratory (


Dr. Michael Watson, NASA – Marshall Space Flight Center (

Working Group Products


Product Type  Last Updated
 Complexity Primer for Systems Engineers           White Paper      July 2015
 Complex Systems WG Info Paper Brochure  June 2015
 Complexity Primer Overview Presentation  November 2015   


Planned Working Sessions at the Next Events

Members and Friends of the INCOSE Complex Systems Working Group: 

The INCOSE Complex Systems Working Group will be meeting during the 2016 INCOSE International Workshop (January 30 – February 2, 2016 in Torrance, CA).  If you are participating in the Workshop, I hope you will consider joining us for one or more of our sessions.  There will be GlobalMeet connectivity for those who wish to dial into the discussions (if you are dialing in from outside the United States or Canada, an need a different dial-in number, please email

The WG will meet twice during the IW:

Saturday January 30, 2016
1:30PM to 3:30PM, PST
Web Address: (join as GUEST)
Access Number: 1-719-457-1414/1-888-619-1583
Guest Passcode: 514 684 9877

Working session to begin development of a WG white paper/position paper or case study on cybersecurity viewed as a complex systems problem.  In this session, we will attempt to identify particular ways in which the cybersecurity problem is complex, and express how SE approaches to complexity – such as those described in our WG’s Complexity Primer for Systems Engineers (available via the CxSWG section of INCOSE Connect) – may suggest new and better approaches to this important and cross-cutting challenge.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016
9:00 to 12:00 Noon, PST
Web Address: (join as GUEST)
Access Number: 1-719-457-1414/1-888-619-1583
Guest Passcode: 944 440 9838

The primary WG business meeting of the Complex Systems Working Group.

9:00AM – 9:45AM:     Introductions and overview of CxS WG (Jimmie McEver)
9:45AM – 10:45AM:     Toward a Complex Systems Engineering Maturity Model (Brian White)
10:45AM – 11:30AM:     Engineering Elegant Systems, Systems Engineering Research Consortium (Michael Watson)
11:30AM – 12:00PM:     Identification of and organizing for prospective 2016 WG projects and products (McEver and Watson)

Other IW 2016 meetings of interest:

  • Scheduled joint sessions with other working groups:
    • Monday, Feb 1:
      1:00PM to 3:00PM PST
      Agile Systems and Systems Engineering: Agility as an approach for dealing with complexity
    • Monday, February 1, 2016
      4:00PM to 5:30PM PST
      Systems Sciences: Fundamental tensions of working with complex systems
  • CxSWG members have been invited to spend the day with the Systems Science WG on Monday (9:00AM to 5:00PM PST).
  • The Critical Infrastructure Protection and Recovery (CIPR) Working Group is actively seeking collaboration with members from other related INCOSE WGs.  There are a number of important complex systems considerations associated with critical infrastructure challenges, and some of you may be interested in participating in CIPR discussions.  CIPR meets on Sunday (1400 to 1630) and Monday (0930 to 1130, 1330 to 1630).

I am looking forward to seeing you at IW 2016!.

Take care,

Dr. Jimmie McEver
Senior Scientist, JHU Applied Physics Laboratory
Chair, INCOSE Complex Systems Working Group


Planned Presentations at the Next Annual

Panel Discussion:  Fundamental Tensions of Working with Complex Systems
  • Moderator:  Dr. James Martin
  • Panelists
    • Robert MacKay, Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick
    • Jimmie McEver, JHU Applied Physics Laboratory, INCOSE Complex Systems WG Chair
    • Hillary Sillitto, University of Strathclyde, Sillitto Enterprises
    • Michael Watson, NASA - Marshall Space Flight Center