Expedited Systems Engineering for Rapid Capability and Urgent Needs
This Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC) research topic 34 (RT-34) examines expedited systems engineering (SE) as applied to rapid capability and urgent needs as developed in response to changing threats. The Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on the Fulfillment of Urgent Operational Needs (July 2009) identified more than 20 rapid-reaction programs and organizations addressing DoD urgent warfighter needs. Later, OSD/DDR&E conducted a study called “Rapid Capability Fielding Toolbox” released in March 2010. Recently GAO has examined how well the DoD handles rapid solutions to Joint Urgent Needs, and they have also specifically examined the acquisition activities for Special Ops urgent needs. These studies determined that the standard Department of Defense acquisition process is not designed to respond to the dynamic environment of rapid acquisition. These reports and others have also documented the problems and possible solutions surrounding rapid acquisition, rapid fielding and/or rapid prototyping. The recommendations have included acquisition process changes and introduction of new SE tools.
Lifecycle of urgent needs programs is driven by “time to market” as opposed to complete satisfaction of static requirements, with delivery expected in days/months versus years/decades. The processes and practices applied to urgent needs must add value and not require an excessive bureaucratic oversight to implement, while at the same time address, understand, and manage risk such that programs can understand better where to include, truncate, or eliminate systems engineering (SE) practices and processes. The original RT-34 hypothesis was that by defining, identifying, testing, and ultimately implementing expedited SE processes and practices, capability that results from urgent needs may be more effective, efficient, and longer lasting in the field. Potential second order effects are that expedited SE as applied to urgent needs could streamline specific future SE practices, as urgent becomes “normal,” and findings could eventually improve SE processes for traditional programs as well. The intersection of these two extremes could become a “hybrid” approach to SE.
The RT-34 research team set out with the goal to identify the factors that contribute positively to rapid acquisition focusing on the systems engineering process. One can hypothesize that certain critical success factors from those organizations that do rapid acquisition may well be transferrable to traditional acquisition. These critical success factors may include aspects from their personnel/organization, the processes they use, or how they approach the product/system/solution.
This research effort studied over 30 organizations and individuals – from commercial, civil and DoD sectors – which have known experience in rapid development as shown in Table 1. These organizations and individuals were at the headquarters level and often represented a portfolio of rapid programs. The investigation attempted to identify any people, process or product related behaviors that the organizations thought most contributed to expedited systems engineering. The site visit discussions showed that expedited SE was conducted in the context of overall rapid development, and the responses from individuals focused more on the contributions of people to rapid development and acquisition success instead of a “secret sauce” of how to expedite SE.
It is also necessary to define what we mean by “rapid.” Most define “rapid” as generally delivering a capability as quickly as 2 months and no longer than 24 months. However, we have also seen “rapid” referred to as “half the time of traditional acquisition.” The definition must also consider the context of the acquisition environment as well as the characteristics of the fielded capability, such as amount of operational capability/performance, warfighter satisfaction, safety of operations, manufacturability, and sustainability (repairs, parts, etc.). Many other design considerations may be critical, which must be balanced with time to market. We refer to "expedited systems engineering" as the set of systems engineering and engineering management activities used during a rapid acquisition, which may be tailored and scaled appropriately (or unfortunately eliminated or delayed inappropriately). This last approach has been termed technical debt.
The RT-34 team found an enthusiasm that is infectious throughout the organizations that regularly practice "rapid" successfully. This finding revealed that rapid organizations have a certain culture that fosters and enables a certain esprit de corps. We hope that exhilaration can spread throughout the entire acquisition community.