This DoD Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC) briefing was commissioned as a quick-look study by Ms. Kristen Baldwin, Director of Systems Analysis within the ODDR&E Systems Engineering (SE) organization and Deputy Director of the SERC. The recent DoD Instruction 5000.02 and the Congressional Weapon System Acquisition Reform Act (WSARA) have recommended evolutionary acquisition as the preferred strategy for Major Defense Acquisition Programs (MDAPs). Since DoD SE has largely been performed under non-evolutionary acquisition practices, there are questions about what needs to be changed about DoD SE practices and SE-related acquisition management practices to enable SE to function more effectively. The study is presented as a briefing with notes to emphasize that it is not an exhaustive study, but one to set the context for more detailed analyses and initiatives.
The study found that there are several forms of evolutionary acquisition, and that there is no one-size-fits-all SE approach that is best for all situations. For rapid-fielding situations, an easiest-first, get something working, evolutionary SE approach is best. But for enduring systems, an easiest-first evolutionary SE approach is likely to produce an unscalable system whose architecture is incompatible with achieving high levels of safety and security. The study also found that evolutionary acquisition requires much higher sustained levels of SE effort, earlier and continuous integration and test, pro-active approaches to address sources of system change, greater levels of concurrent engineering, and achievement reviews based on evidence of feasibility vs. evidence of plans, activity, and system descriptions.
The study also found that many traditional acquisition practices are incompatible with effective SE of evolutionary acquisition. These include assumptions that full-capability requirements can be specified up front along with associated full-capability plans, budgets, schedules, work breakdown structures, and earned-value management targets; that most systems engineers can be dismissed after PDR; and that all forms of requirements change or “creep” should be discouraged. The study also found that other inhibitors to effective SE need to be addressed, such as under budgeting (SE is the first victim of inadequate budgets); contracting provisions emphasizing functional definition before addressal of key performance parameters; and management temptations to show rapid progress on easy initial increments while deferring the hard parts until later increments.