Christy and the Big Picture in Digital Transformation

By Christy Haworth

Aerospace and aviation have always been part of my life.

I was that kid who loved Top Gun. Both my father and my father-in-law are pilots. My husband and I have a plane that we fly on the weekends — we even got married in our airplane hangar!

man and woman with map in front of small plane

While I always knew I wanted to be in the aerospace industry, I was searching for a way to bring together all of my passions. As a systems engineer, I love the technical work, but I also enjoy the big picture aspect of the work. And, I have a creative side too — whether singing, playing piano, home-improvement projects, card-making or scrapbooking, to name a few.

It was in model-based systems engineering (MBSE) that I found a beautiful balance for all these interests.

I’d heard about MBSE in college, but it was while interning at Northrop Grumman, working hands-on with MBSE, that it all clicked. Integrating everything we do on the technical side into an enduring, authoritative source of truth — as described by the Department of Defense in their Digital Engineering Strategy — not only allows us to develop more quickly, but enables us to spot errors a lot faster.

The digital model allows us to communicate complex information to a variety of stakeholders, both technical and non-technical, in a meaningful, digestible way. Successful MBSE requires artistry and creativity to translate the technical intricacies of a solution into a format useful to all stakeholders. You can’t just be an expert on the payload, or ground, or a processor, or hardware, or software — you have to understand all of it! To be effective at MBSE, you have to understand the mission plus all of the technology and disciplines required to make the whole thing happen. It’s being the ultimate generalist and strategic thinker for a program.

MBSE: Foundational in Creating Processes, Analysis and Design in Engineering

Today, as architecture lead on Next Generation Polar (NGP), I’m seeing MBSE bring out creativity and new ways to approach processes, analysis and design. My team is integrating the high-level space and ground segments for two national security satellites that will provide missile warning in the northern hemisphere. Because our two satellites are part of a larger constellation, we’re also integrating our system architecture within the overall enterprise.

It takes engineers from all different disciplines and backgrounds, working together, to bring this complex system of systems into reality, making sure it meets our customer’s needs and serves our country. As new people have joined the team, it’s been fun to see their excitement around digital transformation regardless of whether or not they have had former MBSE experience.

woman smiling in small plane

On NGP, we’re driving digital transformation, making sure our processes and tools align to do our jobs better every day. One of the greatest values of MBSE is the traceability of various stakeholder concerns to different features of the modeled system, which helps us understand how the system connects — the big picture.

Mindset Shift with Digital Engineering and MBSE

But there’s a mindset shift that goes with it. We’re fostering a culture where people step back and communicate about the big picture — listening, to truly understand what the challenges are and then working together to reach a solution and injecting new approaches where they can add value.  

I always thought I’d work on airplanes but I ended up in outer space. Still, I approach engineering the same way I approach aviation — I’m very safety-conscious. You have to understand the details, be prepared for many different situations and have the ability to pivot. Our team’s big picture mindset, supported by MBSE, enables us to analyze all the available options and then quickly move forward, together.

I’ve stayed at Northrop Grumman because I absolutely love what I work on and the people that I work with. I look forward to what I do every day, blending my creative and technical sides, and I value the culture here, because I feel that my company cares about all of us as a whole, and also recognizes each of us as individuals contributing to the bigger picture.

About Christy: Christy Haworth is the architecture lead on Next Generation Polar, providing MBSE vision for the team. Since starting at Northrop Grumman as an intern in 2014, Christy has held a number of systems engineering leadership roles, and she brought her passion for MBSE to NGP when she started on the program in January 2019. Outside of work, Christy enjoys travel, flying general aviation with her husband and exploring her artistic side.

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