by Richard Shea
| October 13, 2016
The system engineer (SE) is responsible for the technical aspects of the project that includes working with the architecture, design, and integration teams. SE develops a workable system solution that is capable of meeting the customer requirements. The project manager (PM) is responsible for the programmatic elements of the project that include the schedule, budget, and staffing. The PM also manages customer expectations and provide status reports. The two roles require close collaboration. The common elements between the two, referred to as SEPM, are requirements development, customer interaction, and risk management. Due to these overlapping elements, an allocation between SE and PM varies depending on project characteristics and contractor practices. Some companies often do not measure PM costs. PRICE Systems’ TruePlanning Systems Cost Object estimates system engineering and project management (SE/PM) activity costs allocated by program phase and produces an activity based SE/PM estimate that is appropriate for the project being estimated. However, I was recently asked to provide a client with other sources of SEPM trends comparable to TruePlanning. These trends are also useful in providing an additional cross check.
In 2006, Rand performed a study on SEPM trends and costs for Aircraft and Guided Weapons programs. The Rand study shows growth in the total SEPM percent and that as of the 1990s, development SEPM can range from 16% for Aircraft systems to 23% for guided weapons systems. The SE/PM percent for Aircraft systems are on an upward trajectory where the Guided Weapons SE/PM percent is relatively stable. Rand has found that there are differences in how contractors will define SEPM and “We found from our discussions with contractors that even within a single company the definition of the content of SE/PM may change from program to program.” The Rand study indicates a SE/PM range depending on the type and complexity of the systems.
In comparing the project from the 1960’s to the 1990’s, we see the SE/PM grows in relation to the increased technological complexity and the greater system requirements of the systems being supported. In comparing the Aircraft and Guided Weapons programs we also see a difference in the system SE/PM support requirements. We see here that the project complexity, size, and scope are the drivers of the SE/PM growth over time.
The Rand study also documents the split between SE and PM for Aircraft development programs is 50/50 where the split for Guided Weapons development programs is 60/40 respectively.