Space Systems Engineer & INCOSE Past President
Space Systems Engineer & INCOSE Past President
Check out Heinz’s profile on INCOSE’s website: https://www.incose.org/docs/default-source/memberspotlight/past-president-heinz-stoewer.pdf?sfvrsn=2&sfvrsn=2
Joshua: Professor Stoewer, thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed. The purpose of these interviews is to provide guidance to people who would like to have a career in how to design, make and maintain systems. And so we’ve been interviewing experts in the field. Would you be able to describe what you’re doing right now? And any kind of mission you’re on, regarding your career?
Hienz: Well let me start this way. My career was always on systems engineering and project management at all kinds of elements in the matrix, on top, on the bottom, on left and on right. Because I believe systems engineering is extremely important and it is very closely linked to project management. Experience shows when you have projects where system engineering is done well, the project usually is done well and runs within schedule and cost and performance. If system engineering doesn’t work well at all, or is not well correlated into project management, you’re asking for trouble. Certainly in the high tech world of high tech projects.
Joshua: Yes. How do you go about convincing others to take a systems approach? We both agree that systems is important.
Hienz: Well by education and by demonstrating how it works. My domain specialty, as you know, is space engineering and the space domain. To us it’s totally natural to have specialist engineers, to have programmatic people, to have program managers, and system engineers work together in a team. And there, if you’re a good system engineer with a good domain knowledge, you’re automatically accepted and not only that you’re being chosen as leading at least functionally, the teams. But you need to be able to add value to these teams and how do you do that? By having a broader systems view and being able to discuss at the domain knowledge of their specialties with them, their considerations, their viewpoints and their concerns.
Joshua: Thank you. What would be some advice you would give early people in careers in systems or maybe some advice you hear which you think is wrong and should be ignored?
Hienz: Well there’s one very strong advice I have. Before you become a system engineer you should become strong and competent in a specialist discipline. Then you are to look across and over your plate into other disciplines, and as you learn, as you go along and learn more disciplines, and you show an interest for the broader pictures, then you’re in a good stage to become a system engineer.
People who get educated in systems engineering, that’s all their background is, have a very very hard time in complex industry areas because they then jump on processes. And processes is a strength of systems engineering, but it’s also a [German phrase], meaning one of the big problems. Because process alone has no value. The value is in creating a product and for that product you need design, you need architecture, you need all kinds of disciplines to create this one and processes help you to do it better, in a more controlled way etc. But process in itself is not really of a lot of value and process needs to be tailored to specific projects anyway.
Little example, a small satellite of ten kilo needs an entirely different process than a Hubble space telescope which is a huge and highly expensive system.
Joshua: It sounds like almost systems thinking is coming from experience of working on the systems in the domain.
Hienz: That’s certainly partially right, yes.
Joshua: And not just taught as a process which can be followed. Thank you.
You’ve had a career where you’ve done industry positions, academic positions, I guess research institute positions. How have those various places helped you in combining together to become good at this domain.
Hienz: Well, firstly I have studied three different subjects before I even became a system engineer or while I was and was exercising systems engineering. Firstly physics, technical physics which is the basis of all engineering needs to do. Secondly economics side, or the business administration side, and thirdly the management side. Because I always wanted to have a horizontal career, it was just my liking to understand the broader pictures. Has helped me a lot.
Then I’ve been in industry, I’ve been in agencies and I’ve been in academia. Understanding all of those different viewpoints helps even more to understand how the world ticks and particularly how my space world ticks, because the viewpoint of a space agency at government is different from the viewpoint of an industry. If you understand both of them, and have in addition to that an academic background then you have an insight in to all of the organizational elements that contribute to complex systems.
Joshua: What made you choose to go into the space domain?
Hienz: Pure chance.
Hienz: A study friend of mine took me in my last master semester, took me to a conference which I knew nothing about which was first few space enthusiasts talking to each other. And a few of us students. There were people like Professor Cedo from Russia, Professor Ohward from Germany, and all the big shots of space at that time. As students we just talked to them and they inspired us and I decided right there, on the spot, in Heidelberg in Germany that’s going to be where I’m going to go into.
Hienz: Totally unprepared, it was a decision which I never regretted.
Joshua: So from a masters in physics.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities or challenges for working in systems right now, or the things that early careers people should really be focusing on?
Hienz: The biggest challenge in systems are all the unknowns. If you think you understand it all then you’re already one step wrongly busy. Because there’s so many things coming together, some what I call physics based, mathematics based things, and behavioral things, economic things etc. And to amalgamate all of those into a good product like a good car, or a good airplane or a good space plane takes a lot of judgment. Of course and develop a lot of good tools and good dialogues with lots of the experts, which is fun to do.
Joshua: Is there any book or resource you’d recommend people make sure they read if they want to be a systems engineer?
Hienz: Well you should be aware of the system engineering handbook of The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), version four zero, the current one, because it gives some of the basics. But beware it is strongly process oriented. But if you understand that limitation it is quite useful, gives you lots of practical things to follow to do, to think about and that’s probably the most single one that can help.
Joshua: Yes and if you want to pass the exam, that’s the textbook I think, for the exam.
Joshua: Of your career, what would you say would be something you’re most proud of and also something where it went wrong, but that learning from the mistake was very useful for you?
Hienz: Well the most proud I am probably of the teams I’ve had the chance to lead. I’m a very strong team player and very strongly considering my teams motivations. Because if a team is motivated they can move mountains. If a team is not motivated it becomes bureaucracy. I’m putting it this black and white, and there’s lots of shades of gray in between there, but I’ve always tried to find the best people I could possibly find for the jobs I was assigned to do. And it’s so much fun to work in good teams, who are highly competent in their domains and to work together towards a product. That is stimulating, that’s inspiring, that’s just wonderful.
Joshua: Is there anything which went badly, but you learned a lot from or has it broadly been okay?
Hienz: Yes I’ve had two major confrontations with politics. And I am a Swabian, that’s a Southern German and I can be extremely stubborn. And if politics tells me this is green, but I know it is red, I don’t accept that it’s green. So I’ve bounced with politics a few times in my career because I never sold my soul nor my convictions. Even if the minister was not in agreement with, if I was professionally convinced this is the right solution I would not budge.
Joshua: Yes, I think that’s good advice. Hienz: Yes, but it’s difficult advice.