Complex Systems Working Group

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 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  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.  

Complexity Primer Recognized as 2016 INCOSE Product of the Year

The Complex Systems Working Group was recognized during the Opening Plenary of the 2017 International Workshop, receiving the award for the 2016 Product of the Year for A Complexity Primer for Systems Engineers.  Congratulations to the group, and particular thanks to all those who contributed to its development and acceptance as an INCOSE product.  The intent for the primer was for it to be a “living document”, with regular updates and supplemental materials that drill down into more detail on particular topics of interest to the SE community.  You can download the Primer from the INCOSE Store.



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


Dr. Ali Raz & Michael Do

Working Group Products

ProductType Last Updated
EnergyTech 2017 KeynotePresentation Nov 2017
Cybersecurity as a Complex Adaptive SystemsPresentation June 2017
Dealing with Complexity in Modern Engineering Endeavors Presentation July 2017
A Complexity Primer for Systems Engineers*         White Paper     July 2016
Complex Systems WG Info PaperBrochure June 2015
Complexity Primer OverviewPresentation November 2015

*2016 INCOSE Product of the Year.  Available for download in the INCOSE Store.

Complex Systems Working Group to Meet at IS 2019

The INCOSE Complex Systems Working Group will meeting during the 2019 INCOSE International Symposium in Orlando, FL on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 from 3:30 -- 5:00 PM in the Gardenia Room at the conference venue, the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress.  

The purpose of this meeting will be to provide a brief overview of the WG's mission and projects, and to discuss next steps in building on recent WG products, including v2 of our Complexity Primer for Systems Engineers and the Complexity Exemplars work that will be presented at the Symposium.

If you are participating in the Symposium, I hope you will consider joining us.

Take care,

Dr. Jimmie McEver, JHU Applied Physics Laboratory
Dr. Michael Watson, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center


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