The Systems Modeling Language (SysML) was created by the SysML Partners, an informal association of Systems Engineering experts and software modeling tool experts that was organized by Cris Kobryn in 2003 to create a profile (dialect) of the Unified Modeling Language (UML) that could be used for Systems Engineering applications.

Since Kobryn had previously successfully led the UML 1.x and UML 2.0 language design teams, two INCOSE leaders (David Oliver and Sanford Friedenthal) asked Kobryn to lead their effort to respond to the Object Management Group's UML for Systems Engineering RFP issued in March 2003. As Chair of the SysML Partners Kobryn coined the language name "SysML" (short for "Systems Modeling Language"), designed the original SysML logo, organized the SysML core language design team as an open source specification project, and served as Chief Editor of the SysML specifications.

David Oliver, Co-Chair of the INCOSE Model Driven Design Working Group and INCOSE Fellow, was a seminal contributor to the SysML Partners throughout the project. (See Acknowledgement in Memoriam below.) Sandy Friedenthal, chair of the OMG Systems Engineering Special Interest Group, served as Deputy Chair of the SysML Partners during the start of the project. Other key contributors to the SysML open source project included, but were not not limited, to Chris Sibbald (Teleogic), Thomas Wiegert (Motorola), and Brian Willard (Northrop Grumman).