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Mitre Systems Engineering Guide (2014) [pdf] (mitre.org)
121 points by mindcrime 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments

Another great resource for Systems Engineering is the NASA Systems Engineering Handbook: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/ebooks/nasa-systems-engineering...

NASA's guide is a more general engineering approach, since their projects are aerospace instead of IT. Chapter 4 has a great overview of requirements and traceability.

This material is concerning to me on a base level.

To me, it doesn't reflect positively on the cost and complexity to implement a large scale system. It presents much of the material without a simple guide to what should be optional, when, and where.

You almost need a huge number of people to even digest the material and then make decisions about it. It feels like a massive reflection of the government contracting industry. I see it illustrating the value of editorial or architectural control and a willingness to take risks by saying "no".

Systems engineering in its very nature is a huge task. You’re trying to balance the various tug of war battles between everything. Cost, performance, reliability, weight, etc... How light is this material vs how strong is it? What kind of tooling do we already have that can we use vs do we need to invent new tooling? Inventing new tooling is expensive. Inventing new tooling requires training on new tools. Training is expensive. The list goes on and on. Systems engineering is preventing deadlock.

I’m speaking in the physical world (aircraft) but the same concepts apply to software. If your system is small, sure you can do it all in your head. But if it’s large, you need to put a cohesive plan together that accounts for everyones issues, even if they aren’t going to get solved right away.

So yeah, you do need a whole team to do this kind of thing.

Can anyone shed light on what MITRE Corporation is and what kind of systems they build?

I could not find that information from Wikipedia or the official web page.

I worked at Mitre for 5 years in the 1990s in their DC area campus. Some of their core business has changed since then, but not what makes them special.

Mitre serves two primary roles. First, they're a technical advocate for various US military and intelligence agencies, representing their interests at conferences and in committees and helping them shape policy and practices in that advisory role. As such, Mitre is granted levels of trust and access to agency materiel that no contractor has. As such, Mitre is not supposed to take work that might compete directly with the financial interests of contractors and thus must engage only in activities that are non-competitive: advising or coordinating, rather than building systems.

The second role Mitre plays is as a FFRDC (Federally Funded R&D Center), a long term R&D facility dedicated to one government agency, directly serving their interests (as Jet Propulsion Labs serves NASA). In Mitre's case, the clients are the FAA, Homeland Security and cybersecurity, or the US military's (C3I) Command Control Communications and Intelligence interests (mostly run by the army).

An FFRDC maintains staff with various specialized technical subject matter skills that serve the needs and plans of the agency, who often act on behalf of the agency with the internal access and authority equal to that of a government employee. But this close relationship with the government often extends to the non-FFRDC parts of Mitre too.


Advancement at Mitre is unlike the typical contractor, where you manage increasingly large parts of contracts. Mitre benefits most when you establish an ever closer relationship with the government agency and people therein. The higher the governmant authority you report to, the more valuable you become within Mitre.

Publishing papers and reports to and on behalf of your agency makes you (and your team) more visible and useful to that customer, increasing the agency's desire to engage more Mitre services and rely on them for more uses. Mitre tech staff (usu software developers) often build and show lots of demos before agency managers (and generals) that prototype capabilities they want to explore and advance.

For any interested gubmit workers, a lot of red tape has been cut here. You deal with the IRS' contracting officer directly to start, since they already went through the competitive bid process.

MITRE began as an offshoot of an Air Force project (SAGE) and I believe is still their single biggest customer.

I can since I'm interviewing there. Below is what they sent to explain what they do.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQqJlxI8-9g&feature=youtu.be https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7skHl7SxbRM&feature=youtu.be

Government contractor, lots of work for the DOD, alphabet soup orgs, and other groups.

Doesn't have to be shady stuff, per se, like sometimes the Postal Service needs to update their infrastructure, etc.

But generally assumed to be government-y, so security + network + big data-ish stuff that allows them bill a lot and may or may not large scale graft from the taxpayer.

They are effectively a staffing agency focused on technical positions and security clearances. They staff roles almost entirely for the government on an as needed basis when there isn't enough experienced engineers/physicists/software developers for a particular project.

Consequently, the systems they build are whatever is a government priority at the time. Right now, the 3 letter agencies are spending big on "Cyber" so Mitre is building a lot of cyber related systems. https://attack.mitre.org/ is one of their interesting recent projects that is public facing.

Mitre does seem to treat their own employees very well. I've had mixed results working with them, but not really any worse than any other government staffing company.

This answer is not correct. MITRE is not a staffing agency, but a special purpose entity called a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC). The other answer in this thread is better -- a key thing MITRE gets pushback from other entities about is whether or not it is ideally suited to fill some government need, or whether it's just an anticompetitive way of awarding a contract to one body instead of letting it out as the government would normally do.

Those pressures tend to focus and specialize MITRE on issues which require objectivity and high levels of expertise in systems engineering sub-areas. They are most definitely not a staffing agency, although the government can (and sometimes does) misuse them to this effect.

No, Mitre is not an FFRDC. Mitre is the administrator of a number (about 6 or 7) of FFRDCs which are run as an identifiable separate operating unit of a parent organization pursuant section 35 of the FAR.

Further more, Mitre has several positions posted right now that have nothing to do with FFRDCs and are in fact, just providing personnel for government projects. Splitting hairs on the terminology is a great game to play on the internet, but what would the average person call a company that produces no products and provides administrative, research, and engineering personnel on a basis of awarded contracts? The fact that Mitre employees seem to continually conflate their work as engineering contractors and their roles as FFDR administrators is a large part of my "mixed" experience in working with them.

And frankly; by your definition Honeywell would be an FFRDC which I don't think anyone would argue.

It's not like an agency can just go to MITRE and say "Hey, do you have any geospatial analysts, I need a few."

They have to jump through a lot of hoops to get to that point. It needs to be part of some research program or development project that they've convinced the sponsoring agency fits within the FFRDC charter and convinced MITRE and the COR they need to assist with, and awarded the tasking (beating everyone else trying to use that vehicle). MITRE and the COR get to decide which programs/projects, and they propose the staffing they think will help.

It's very inconvenient, let's just say.

Sure it's inconvenient. It's inconvenient to staff anyone in the government. If I could have ordered employees like pizza on any staffing vehicle, I would have staffed them regardless of nearly anything else and never looked back.

Right now I can go on Mitre's website and look at their hot jobs postings. Right there is PM support in the army acquisition core, COTS integration, and several software engineer postings supporting BMD and THAAD. These are not part of their FFRDC line up. A cursory look shows about 1/3rd of current Mitre posting appear unrelated to FFRDCs. These sorts of positions will place Mitre employees in government offices and labs doing the same work along side other contractors hired by other contracting vehicles and along side government engineers doing the same work. It's not wrong, it's just the truth of the matter. There should be more firewalls legally speaking but they often times get broken down just so work can get done. I think that trying to dress Mitre up is not very helpful to someone trying to understand it from the outside. Statements like, "Mitre benefits most when you establish an ever closer relationship with the government agency and people therein. The higher the governmant authority you report to, the more valuable you become within Mitre," sound downright dystopian.

Mitre fulfills multiple rolls. It runs several research centers and fills government positions based on current government contract awards. They treat their employees well and pay a little above average for defense work. Mitre is heavily focused on technical positions or systems engineering. Mitre is a non-profit corporation and does not produce a commercial product. They are prohibited from engaging in manufacturing without special permission from the government.

Largely agreed. The tit-for-tat that can happen where positions get filled on programs having little to do with the FFRDC they're staffed under is a problem and it makes MITRE a target for other contractors who will complain to congress about, etc. It's an existential issue for them.

I've noticed federal agencies twist themselves into knots to try to get MITRE to staff something, and jump through the hoops, and really stretch the FFRDC charter, precisely because staffing anyone in the government is a shit show. I think the percieved value is a good chance of someone who isn't useless in the role and some stability.

I don't know who's fault that is, but I know MITRE hammers the line into PMs heads, you know, you're not a body shop. R&D/prototype work only.

At the same time, portfolio managers would be rewarded for forging new partnerships and getting new projects awarded via the FFRDC, even if they were kind of BS beyond a nice slide deck. Having projects to staff those PhDs on and getting kudos from the sponsors is what matters for advancement so...


I think we are pretty much in agreement. It really doesn't help how much the government is willing to stretch the definitions of R&D and System Engineering either.

There's a company overview PDF on this page: https://www.mitre.org/publications/all/mitre-an-overview

"Maintaining military strength. Transforming global aviation. Thwarting cyber criminals. Adapting to an evolving healthcare landscape. Responding to citizens’ needs... These are just a few of the critical challenges that our government tackles daily. The MITRE Corporation, a private, non-profit organization, operates federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) that help government agencies address many of these challenges."

I worked on a defense contract for an upgrade to a radar system for the USAF years ago, MITRE was the 'IV&V' contractor for the project.

They had smart engineers, we had smart engineers. At each step along the way in the classic waterfall model they would ask (early) why the design was a certain way / (later) why the code was a certain way. Not adversarial, but making sure the customer (US Gov't, taxpayers) were getting what they paid for and not a snow job or wishful thinking.

I mostly know them for Cyber Security infrastructure stuff. They manage CVEs, and they work on a lot of cyber security projects for DoD. More recently they have created the MITRE ATTACK framework. This gives insight into the different tactics used by bad-guys, and techniques used to achieve them.

To me tt feels like a defense contractor with a focus on getting the base layer of Cyber right.

To put it another way, they're kind of the same thing as the RAND Corporation. Maybe more technical and less strategic?

There is some overlap but RAND is simply a think tank. (I admit that’s a vast generalization, they do good work)

MITRE operates FFRDCs, as mentioned elsewhere in this thread, with very specific roles and limitations. They also don’t do a ton of policy analysis - they mostly do technical and architectural work, and support program offices and system developers. So your comment about strategic vs technical is mostly accurate, but it’s a little more nuanced.

(I am a former MITRE employee who still thinks they do good work and fill an appropriate role)

Edit: I guess RAND also operates FFRDCs too, but on policy analysis.

I have met few people from Mitre last year. They are Govt Contractors working on HealthCare apps.

They do a lot more than healthcare apps, or even healthcare. They conduct R&D on behalf of every Federal agency/branch of the military.

Compared to the INCOSE SE handbook, this guide has much simpler, direct, easier to understand language that feels more natural.

Is this the same Mitre from The Cuckoo's Egg?

Appears so. From Wikipedia's page about Cuckoo's Egg: "eventually tracked the intrusion to a call center at MITRE, a defense contractor in McLean, Virginia"

Page 4 of this PDF shows McLean, Virginia as the HDQ.

Yes, it is.

Is anyone aware of a good lecture series on Youtube or equivalent about Systems Engineering. I covered it in Uni, but it would be nice to go through a refresher.

This is both high-level and low-level at the same time; I'm not sure juniors would grok it all, so perhaps this is more of a reference for SEs?

Yes, this is intended as a reference/best practices document for systems engineers.

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