CERT-SEI

Patterns of Failure: Acquisition Archetypes

The SEI is developing Acquisition Archetypes to help the software community identify, manage and prevent recurring patterns of counter-productive practices in software acquisition. This work is based on experiences with actual programs, and uses concepts from systems thinking to characterize and analyze dynamics. A set of briefs is being developed as an initial part of this effort to describe some of the most common patterns, and assist acquisition programs in handling and avoiding them.

Acquisition Archetypes: Firefighting

This visually compelling 5-minute video from the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) presents the “Firefighting” acquisition archetype, a recurring dynamic that often undermines large-scale software acquisition and development programs. In the “Firefighting” archetype, performing rework to fix defects in the current release diverts resources from the design of the next release—injecting even more defects into it. This video tells the familiar story of how “Firefighting” occurs on programs, explains systems thinking and how a causal loop diagram can be used to analyze the dynamic, and shows some of the ways it can be mitigated and prevented. Software acquisition practitioners of all levels of experience will find this cautionary tale relevant, and the analysis and recommended solutions insightful and useful.

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Acquisition Archetypes: The Bow Wave Effect

This visually compelling 5-minute video from the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) presents the “Bow Wave Effect” acquisition archetype, a recurring dynamic that often undermines large-scale software acquisition and development programs. In the “Bow Wave Effect” archetype, when using spiral development the riskier tasks planned for an early development spiral are delayed in favor of simpler tasks—thus increasing risk by leaving less time, less budget, and less flexibility to address issues. This video tells the familiar story of how the “Bow Wave Effect” occurs on programs, explains how a causal loop diagram can be used to analyze the dynamic, and shows some of the ways it can be mitigated and prevented. Software acquisition practitioners of all levels of experience will find this cautionary tale relevant, and the analysis and recommended solutions insightful and useful.

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Title Path: /acquisition/research/images/

Acquisition Archetypes

These concept briefs are concise, one-page papers that provide real-life software acquisition stories that illustrate how common, recurring patterns affect actual programs. The papers also discuss possible ways to correct and even prevent such behavior. 

All Acquisition Archetypes are in PDF format.

Firefighting
All hands on deck helps put out the immediate blazes threatening projects, but falling into a routine of constant firefighting is not the way to guide a project across the finish line.

The Bow Wave Effect
When deferred requirements pile up and underestimated complexity surround a project, managers end up riding a bow wave of schedule and delivery complications.

Feeding the Sacred Cow
Some programs take on a life of their own—privileged, and woven into an organization's existence. But when "sacred cow" projects begin to go wrong, that privilege and protection makes fixing them even more difficult.

PMO vs. Contractor Hostility
Everyone intends the best in project-driven marriages of PMOs and contractors, but good intentions can't overcome the hostility generated by loss of trust and squabbles in poorly developed relationships.

 

Staff Burnout and Turnover
Applying more pressure on staff can temporarily increase productivity, but burnout soon sets in.

Everything for Everybody

When projects attempt to please too many customers, complexity mounts, schedules slip, costs expand ... and no one is happy.

 

Underbidding the Contract
The concept of bidding on a government contract is deceptively simple. Underbidding is a tactic that complicates all aspects of the process.

Longer Begets Bigger
The concept of bidding on a government contract is deceptively simple. Underbidding is a tactic that complicates all aspects of the process.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul
In today's acquisition environment, where progress is sometimes measured by dollars spent, underspending is not a virtue. In fact, it can lead to having funds shifted to another program.

 

Brooks' Law
What happens when a program chooses to ignore Brooks' Law? This archetype explains the dynamics behind Brooks' Law and why it applies to most programs.

 

"Happy Path" Testing
When time and budget are tight, it's tempting to follow the "happy path" in testing. But be careful: it may be a path that brings your program great unhappiness.

Shooting the Messenger
When problems are detected in programs, it's time for everyone to listen and work toward a solution. Shooting the messenger only delays the process, and hurts program morale.