Welcome to the PDP & Heuristics Page!

A heuristic is a "rule of thumb" or snippet of practical advice, intended to reduce cognitive load. Heuristics are intended to provide guidance for choices or action, although some may be phrased as lessons learned or observations (in those cases, the Elaboration should include the guidance).

The INCOSE Fellows Team has created systems engineering related heuristics that have been made available through the Professional Development Portal (PDP).  You can find them two ways:

  1. On the Browsing the Content Catalog page, using the SE General Topics filter, select “Heuristics” and all the systems engineering heuristics in the PDP Content Catalog will be displayed in Learning Resource Results Cards. 
  2. The systems engineering heuristics have been classified or tagged using the PDP Taxonomy.  The heuristics will be displayed on their Learning Resource Results Card when the PDP user browses the content catalog. 

INCOSE's Criteria for a Useful Systems Engineering Heuristic include:

  • Ideally: pithy and memorable, perhaps a play on words, or uses recognizable elements (such as an analogy or word image)
  • Neither intuitively obvious nor hard to understand; uses common English or SysE words, and passes the test for simple to understand (e.g., Grammarly does not find grammatical errors)
  • Well validated in multiple domains, applicable across many domains or contexts
  • Provides readily understandable guidance
  • Derived from experience
  • Possible to apply: The heuristic can be applied cost-effectively by a practitioner or a team of practitioners (with relevant expertise, if expertise is specified as necessary to apply the heuristic).
  • Significant impact: Changes an action that would otherwise have been taken, resulting in an avoidance of significant unnecessary efforts and allowing the advancement of the solution.
  • Supported by additional explanatory information
  • Backed by illuminating stories (future plan, not yet implemented) 

INCOSE Systems Engineering Heuristics

The Fellows team decided that just collecting heuristics was not sufficient.  They decided that heuristics needed to be processed to be really useful.  This processing consists of rewording the heuristic as necessary to make it short, pithy and memorable, and adding additional information, including:

  • Elaboration – Since heuristics are supposed to be pithy and memorable, they do not provide a complete description and explanation of the guidance they offer, so additional elaboration is needed to enable systems engineers to understand the meaning and intent of the heuristic.
  • Rationale – It is helpful to understand the rationale underlying a heuristic, especially for systems engineers who have not encountered this heuristic before.
  • When to Use – Many heuristics apply only under certain circumstances or in specific stages of an engineering effort. This information should help the user understand whether this heuristic applies to their specific circumstances.
  • Cautions – The application of a heuristic is not “one size fits all,” so this information is intended to help users apply the heuristic in a way most likely to reduce risks and increase the probability of success in the systems engineering effort
  • Why Do I Care? – This information is intended to tell the user what the heuristic addresses specific concern or risk and hopefully help the user understand why it is important to understand and apply.
  • Expertise needed – Some heuristics require special expertise to be applied successfully. This information explains if special expertise is needed, what kind of expertise is needed, and possibly how to obtain needed expertise.
  • Citation – If available, published material to give the user a way to find additional information on the basis for the heuristic and guidance for using it, since many of the writings from which heuristics were drawn talk at length about the basis for the heuristic, and in many cases offer examples of its application.  If source material can be found on the internet, a link is also provided.
  • Source – Many of the heuristics were contributed by individuals who have spent years applying them in practice (who may not know all of the published sources which address the specific heuristic). Users may be able to contact contributors to learn more about the application of the heuristic since many of the contributors are active INCOSE members.

Use Cases for INCOSE Systems Engineering Heuristics

For INCOSE Members, if you go to the Heuristics page at, there are several use cases available for review:

  • Organization Culture Improvement,
  • Use heuristics in SysE Training and Education,
  • Supplementing Expert Review,
  • Help with Problems, and
  • Synthesize and Evaluate.
Contact Us