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.  

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. Jimmie McEver, JHU Applied Physics Laboratory (


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

Working Group Products


Product Type  Last Updated
 A Complexity Primer for Systems Engineers*           White Paper      July 2016
 Complex Systems WG Info Paper Brochure  June 2015
 Complexity Primer Overview Presentation  November 2015   

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

Planned Working Sessions at the Next Events

The INCOSE Complex Systems Working Group will be meeting during the 2017 INCOSE International Workshop (January 28 – 31, 2017 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 join the sessions remotely (if you are dialing in from outside the United States or Canada, and need a different dial-in number, please email

The WG will meet twice during the IW:

Sunday, January 29, 2017
1:00PM to 5:00PM, PST
Web Address: (join as GUEST)
Access Number: 1-719-457-1414/1-888-619-1583
Guest Passcode:  944 440 9838

This session will center on discussion around a set up topics inspired by presentations from members, with an eye toward seeding project initiatives for our 2017 WG work agenda. 

The agenda for Sunday is as follows (all times Pacific Standard Time):

1:00PM Welcome and Introductions
1:30PM WG Overview and Review of the Complexity Primer, Jimmie McEver
2:30PM Domain-independent Approach to Engineering/Management of Complex Systems, Prof. Jutta Abulawi, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences
3:00PM Networking Break
3:30PM Quantifying Complexity, Ali Raz, Purdue University
4:00PM Open Systems, Agility and Complexity, Larri Rosser, Raytheon
4:30PM Defining Systems and Systems Engineering, Dorothy McKinney, ConsideredThoughtfully
5:00PM Adjourn 

We never know where our WG discussions will take us, so these times are intended as a structure, and we will flex a bit as needed.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017
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 Tuesday session is the primary "business meeting" of the Complex Systems Working Group.  We will discuss candidate projects for WG activity in 2017, and settle on our work agenda, anticipated products and timelines, and team leads.

Mr. Bill Schindel from the MBSE Patterns WG will join us at 10AM to share information about his working group and discuss potential opportunities for collaboration.  As you may recall, thinking around patterns is one of the approaches to working in contexts of complexity that is recommended as a guiding principle in the complexity primer.

In addition to the above meetings, there will be a joint WG session with the Critical Infrastructure Protection and Recovery Working Group at 4PM on Monday, January 30, in Executive Suite 1735.
We are looking forward to seeing you at IW 2017!.

Take care,

Dr. Jimmie McEver, Chair
JHU Applied Physics Laboratory

Dr. Michael Watson, Co-Chair
NASA - Marshall Space Flight Center


Planned Presentations at the Next Annual