Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Cycle Time Reduction in Defense Acquisition: The Department of Defense Must Be Able to Evaluate, Acquire, and Deploy New Technology Rapidly in Order to Accomplish Its Mission. a More Flexible Approach Can Bring dOd Development Processes More in Line with Commercial Practices and Substantially Reduce Cycle Time

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Cycle Time Reduction in Defense Acquisition: The Department of Defense Must Be Able to Evaluate, Acquire, and Deploy New Technology Rapidly in Order to Accomplish Its Mission. a More Flexible Approach Can Bring dOd Development Processes More in Line with Commercial Practices and Substantially Reduce Cycle Time

Article excerpt

The defense sector, which represents about four percent of the U.S. economy, is the largest sector for U.S. research and development expenditures; improvements in efficiency and effectiveness in defense systems acquisition are of significant importance to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The ability of DoD to rapidly evaluate, acquire, and deploy new technology is important for long-term performance and mission accomplishment.

One area where performance has been a perennial issue has been in the area of cycle time, the time required to develop and field a new system (US GAO 2003). The DoD system development process, which dates to the 1960s, was intended to manage the achievement of technical performance requirements, control costs, and meet schedule objectives. However, the process has often generated inadvertent consequences for cycle time. Substantive reforms in the process have created greater congruity with best practices in commercial product development, but cycle time reduction continues to be a critical challenge.

In recent years, the DoD community has begun to recognize that a more flexible acquisition process, like that used in commercial product development efforts, offers increased potential for reducing cycle time. This more flexible approach, advocated under the DoD 5000 series of acquisition directives, is in direct contrast to the traditional, more rigidly standardized approach to defense systems acquisition. The issues confronted by DoD in its acquisition processes suggest how schedule performance can be improved not only in defense projects but in product development in general. In this review, we examined the commercial literature and compared it with our experience and observations in over 20 DoD programs, all of which had a focus on cycle time reduction.

The DoD Acquisition Process

Defense acquisition differs from commercial product development in three important respects. First, in contrast to the direct relationship between customer and corporation that characterizes commercial product development, in defense systems development the customer (a military command representing the warfighters who will use the system) is separate from the government program office that manages the contractor developing the system. Second, although defense contractors, like commercial firms, attempt to maximize financial performance, the tolerance for cost overruns means that contractors often have insufficient incentive to control costs. Third, defense acquisition is subject to the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), a regulatory framework designed to control waste, fraud, and abuse. The need to adhere to FAR requirements has implications for cycle time at all stages of the acquisition process.

The DoD acquisition process developed during the 1960s was relatively rigid and inflexible. In particular, the acquisition process tended to be applied to all systems regardless of the size of the program or production quantities. By contrast, in commercial product development, the processes that guide concept definition, prototype development, testing, and the sequence of corporate approval decisions tend to be varied, flexible, and customized to fit the particular requirements of each project (Cooper, Edgett, and Kleinschmidt 2004). Beginning in 2003, the DoD began to move toward a more flexible model more closely resembling commercial product development; this shift has been documented in the 5000 series of DoD acquisition directives (DoD 2003; Defense Acquisition University 2009).

The DoD acquisition process currently in use (Figure 1) includes phases for materiel solution analysis, technology development, engineering and manufacturing development, production and deployment, and operations and support. The preferred approach to systems development under this process is evolutionary; new systems are developed and deployed in increments to allow for shorter acquisition cycle times. …

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