How to Choose the Right MBSE Tool

Find the Model-Based Systems Engineering Tool for Your Team

A model-based systems engineering tool can provide you with accuracy and efficiency. You need a tool that can help you do your job faster, better, and cheaper. Whether you are using legacy tools like Microsoft Office or are looking for a MBSE tool that better fits your team, here are some features and capabilities you should consider.

Collaboration and Version Control

It’s 2018. The MBSE tool you are looking at should definitely have built in collaboration and version control. You want to be able to communicate quickly and effectively with your team members and customers. Simple features such as a chat system and comment fields are a great start. Workflow and version control are more complex features but very effective. Workflow is a great feature for a program manager. It allows the PM to design a process workflow for the team that sends out reminders and approvals. Version control lets users work together simultaneously on the same document, diagram, etc. If you are working in a team of 2+ people, you need a tool with version control. Otherwise you will waste a lot of time waiting for a team member to finish the document or diagram before you can work on it.

Built in Modeling Languages Such as LML, SysML, BPML, Etc.

Most systems engineers need to be able to create uniformed models. LML encompasses the necessary aspects of both SysML and BPML. If you would like to try a simpler modeling language for complex systems, LML is a great way to do that. A built in modeling language allows you to make your models correct and understandable to all stakeholders.

Executable Models

A MBSE tool needs to be much more than just a drag and drop drawing tool; the models need to be executable. Executable models ensure accurate processes through simulation. Innoslate’s activity diagram and action diagram are both executable through the discrete event and Monte Carlo simulators. With the discrete event simulator, you will not only be able to see your process models execute, but you will able to see the total time, costs, resources used, and slack. The Monte Carlo simulator will show you the standard deviation of your model’s time, cost, and resources.

Easy to Learn

It can take a lot of time and money to learn a new MBSE tool. You want a relatively short learning curve. First, look for a tool that has an easy user interface. A free trial, sandbox, or account to get started with is a major plus. This let’s you get a good feel for how easy the tool is to learn. Look for tools that provide free online training. It’s important that the tool provider is dedicated to educating their users. They should have documentation, webinars, and free or included support.

Communicates Across Stakeholders

Communication in the system/product lifecycle is imperative. Most of us work on very diverse teams. Some of us have backgrounds in electrical engineering or physics or maybe even business. You need to be able to communicate across the entire lifecycle. This means the tool should have classes that meet the needs of many different backgrounds, such as risk, cost, decisions, assets, etc. A tool that systems engineers, program managers, and customers can all understand is ideal. The Lifecycle Modeling Language (LML) is a modeling language designed to meet all the stakeholder needs.

Full Lifecycle Capability

A tool with full lifecycle capability will save you money and time. If you don’t choose a tool with all the features needed for the project’s lifecycle, you will have to purchase several different tools. Each of those tools can cost the same amount as purchasing just one full lifecycle MBSE tool. You will also have to spend money on more training since you will not be able to do large group training. Most tools do not work together, so you will have spend resources on integrating the different tools. This causes the overall project to cost a lot more. This is why Innoslate is a full lifecycle MBSE solution.


It’s important to find the tool that is right for your project and your team. These are just helpful guidelines to help you find the right tool for you. You might need to adjust some of these guidelines for your specific project. If you would like to see if Innoslate is the right tool for your project, get started with it today or call us to see if our solution is the good fit for you.


Why Do We Need Model-Based Systems Engineering?

MBSE is one of the latest buzzwords to hit the development community.

The main idea was to transform the systems engineering approach from “document-centric” to “model-centric.” Hence, the systems engineer would develop models of the system instead of documents.

But why? What does that buy us? Switching to a model-based approach helps: 1) coordinate system design activities; 2) satisfy stakeholder requirements; and 3) provide a significant return on investment.

Coordinating System Design Activities

The job of a systems engineer is in part to lead the system design and development by working with the various design disciplines to optimize the design in terms of cost, schedule, and performance. The problem with letting each discipline design the system without coordination is shown in the comic.

If each discipline optimized for their area of expertise, then the airplane (in this case) would never get off the ground. The systems engineer works with each discipline and balances the needs in each area.

MBSE can help this coordination by providing a way to capture all the information from the different disciplines and share that information with the designers and other stakeholders. Modern MBSE tools, like Innoslate, provide the means for this sharing, as long as the tool is easy for everyone to use. A good MBSE tool will have an open ontology, such as the Lifecycle Modeling Language (LML); many ways to visualize the information in different interactive diagrams (models); ability to verify the logic and modeling rules are being met; and traceability between all the information from all sources.

Satisfying Stakeholder Requirements

Another part of the systems engineers’ job is to work with the customers and end-users who are paying for the product. They have “operational requirements” that must be satisfied so that they can meet their business needs. Otherwise they will no longer have a business.

We use MBSE tools to help us analyze those requirements and manage them to ensure they are met at the end of the product development. As such, the systems engineer becomes the translator from the electrical engineers to the mechanical engineers to the computer scientists to the operator of the system to the maintainer of the system to the buyer of the system. Each speaks a different language. The idea of using models was a means to provide this communications in a simple, graphical form.

We need to recognize that many of the types of systems engineering diagrams (models) do not communicate to everyone, particularly the stakeholders. That’s why documents contain both words and pictures. They communicate not only the visual but explain the visual image to those who do not understand it. We need an ontology and a few diagrams that seem familiar to almost anyone. So, we need something that can model the system and communicate well with everyone.

Perhaps the most important thing about this combined functional and physical model is it can be tested to ensure that it works. Using discrete event simulation, this model can be executed to create timelines, identify resource usage, and cost. In other words, it allows us to optimize cost, schedule, and performance of the system through the model. Finally, we have something that helps us do our primary job. Now that’s model-based systems engineering!

Provides a Significant Return on Investment

We can understand the idea of how systems engineering provides a return on investment from the graph.

The picture shows what happens when we do not spend enough time and money on systems engineering. The result is often cost overruns, schedule slips, reduced performance, and program cancellations. Something not shown on the graph, since it is NASA-related data for unmanned satellites, is the potential loss of life due to poor systems engineering.

MBSE tools help automate the systems engineering process by providing a mechanism to not only capture the necessary information more completely and traceably, but also verify that the models work. If those tools contain simulators to execute the models and from that execution provide a means to optimize cost, schedule, and performance, then fewer errors will be introduced in the early, requirements development phase. Eliminating those errors will prevent the cost overruns and problems that might not be surfaced by traditional document-centric approaches.

Another cost reduction comes from conducting model-based reviews (MBRs). An MBR uses the information within the tool to show reviewers what they need to ensure that the review evaluation criteria are met. The MBSE tool can provide a roadmap for the review using internal document views and links and provide commenting capabilities so that the reviewers’ questions can be posted. The developers can then use the tool to answer those comments directly. By not having to print copies of the documentation for everyone for the review, and then consolidate the markups into a document for adjudication, we cut out several time-consuming steps, which reduce the labor cost of the review an order of magnitude. This MBR approach can reduce the time to review and respond to the review from weeks to days.


The purpose for “model-based” systems engineering was to move away from being “document-centric.” MBSE is much more than just a buzzword. It’s an important application that allows us to develop, analyze, and test complex systems. We most importantly need MBSE because it provides a means to coordinate system design activity, satisfies stakeholder requirements and provides a significant return on investment.  The “model-based” technique is only as good the MBSE tool you use, so make sure to choose a good one.

How to Keep MBSE from Becoming Just a Buzzword (or Is It Too Late?)

The term “Model-Based Systems Engineering” or “MBSE” has been around for nearly a decade. We see the term in requests for proposals, marketing materials, social media, conferences and many other places in the systems engineering community and even in the general public. Clearly, MBSE has become an important part of systems engineering, but has it also become the definition of a buzzword? First, take a look at the definition of a buzzword.




  1. a word or phrase, often sounding authoritative or technical, that is a vogue term in a particular profession, field of study, popular culture, etc.


So, it definitely sounds authoritative, as it comes from the “International Council on Systems Engineering” (INCOSE). It sounds technical, using “Model-Based” and “Systems Engineering.” And clearly, it’s “in vogue,” from its appearance everywhere.


What the definition of a buzzword doesn’t seem to provide is the way a buzzword has a negative context or as Dilbert put it:



What this means is that a buzzword is used by people who don’t really know what it means. I’m sure we have all heard many people use it without any idea of what it means. So, what does MBSE really mean?


Well to understand its real meaning, we need to review the definition of MBSE from INCOSE:

 “Model-based systems engineering (MBSE) is the formalized application of modeling to support system requirements, design, analysis, verification and validation, beginning in the conceptual design phase and continuing throughout development and later life cycle phases.” – INCOSE


As systems engineers, the first thing we want to do is decompose this rather long sentence. It can be broken down into two parts:

  • Modeling (formalized application); and
  • Lifecycle (system requirements, design, analysis, verification and validation).


The formalized application of modeling means that we create models of the system using a “standard.” We know that there are a number of formal and informal standards, which are applied in many different ways. The standard most are familiar with is SysML since it is a profile of UML. SysML focuses on communicating with the software community primarily. The Lifecycle Modeling Language (LML) open standard (, covers the second part of the definition better, as its name implies. It also addresses the program management aspects of systems engineering (risk, cost, schedule, etc.), none of which is really addressed by SysML.


But we have been creating drawings, which are a type of model, since well before anyone called the discipline systems engineering. So, what makes this term different from classic systems engineering?


The key difference is the type of modeling we use when we talk about MBSE. We mean the development of “computable models.” Computable models are models based on data (usually in a standard ontology, like the one LML provides) that can be visualized in standard ways (again using any drawing standard, which both SysML and LML provide). These models can also be tested to determine their validity and to make sure we don’t introduce errors in logic or problems related to dynamic constraints (i.e., lack of resources, bandwidth, latencies, etc.). This testing also includes checking the models against general rules of quality, such as “all function names should start with a verb.” The tools for this kind of testing today include simulation (e.g., discrete event, Monte Carlo) and natural language processing (NLP).


Having models that can be tested and testing them is a clear way to make MBSE real and not a buzzword. Therefore, to implement MBSE you need a tool or set of tools to conduct this testing.


When considering a “MBSE” tool, you will hear claims from almost all of the tool vendors that they are one. To distinguish between those who deliver on the promise of MBSE and those who are treating it as a buzzword, just ask the following questions:


  1. Are your diagrams essentially drawings or are they automatically generated from the data?
  2. If I make a change to one piece of data in the database is that automatically updated in all the other visualizations of that piece of data, including the diagrams?
  3. Can I execute the models using strong simulation techniques?
  4. Do those simulation techniques include discrete event and Monte Carlo?
  5. Do the simulations take into account resource, latency, and bandwidth constraints?
  6. Does your tool test the entire model against common standards of good practice (heuristics)?
  7. Does your tool support the entire lifecycle (system requirements, design, analysis, verification and validation) in a seamless, integrated fashion?


If you ask all these questions, you will find a limited set of tools that can even come close to keeping MBSE from just being a buzzword. So, it’s essential that you carefully evaluate these tools to make sure they provide the support you need to become more productive and produce higher quality products. To see a tool that does meet all these needs check out