Complexity in a Systems Engineering Organisation: An Empirical Case Study

Dawn P Gilbert, Mike Yearworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
231 Downloads (Pure)


The paper presents an exploratory case study carried out to address the research question ‘how does complexity in the organization affect the ability of Systems Engineers to meet delivery expectations in terms of cost and time?’ The review considers how literature in the Systems Engineering arena describes and addresses the problem of failing to meet delivery expectations. An absence of empirical research that considers a Systems Engineering organization as a complex adaptive system is identified. The industrial context that led to this research is described, which, along with consideration of the literature review, supports the choice of methodology. Evidence is provided and analyzed from two perspectives; first a traditional reductionist view of business and project management within an organization, which is based on a deterministic relationship between cause and effect, and second a complex adaptive system view of the organization where cause and effect can be understood in hindsight, but not precisely predicted (Kurtz and Snowden, 2003). Within this perspective it is accepted that emergence is possible. This case study finds that delivery expectations are founded upon predictions of outcomes derived from deterministic causal relations. These expectations are not always met by the emergent outcomes that arise from the complex organization.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)422-435
Number of pages14
JournalSystems Engineering
Issue number5
Early online date7 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2016


  • complexity science
  • project planning/assessment/control
  • decision analysis/management
  • government
  • defense and security


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