Improving Defense Software-Intensive Systems Acquisition with CMMI-AM



Brian P. Gallagher

Sandra Shrum

This library item is related to the following area(s) of work:

Acquisition Support

This article was originally published in News at SEI on: January 1, 2005

The goal of acquiring software-intensive systems in the defense industry is to deliver weapons systems cost effectively and quickly to the warfighter. However, the quality of defense systems in general, and software intensive defense systems in particular, results from the processes used to create and maintain them. Therefore, improving acquisition processes directly benefits warfighters by providing enhanced capabilities and technologies quickly to the field.

Acquirers Face Complex Challenges

Unfortunately, the increasing complexity of defense weapons systems has overtaken the experience and capabilities of the organizations acquiring them. As a result, many acquirers are finding it difficult to establish robust systems engineering practices within the program office, stabilize requirements enough to adequately work with developers/suppliers, and estimate the time and effort required to deliver a capability or system.

Figure 1: The CMMI Acquisition Module and its relevant process areas

Figure 1: The CMMI Acquisition Module and its relevant process areas

Defense system acquirers are also finding it difficult to enforce schedule milestones and delivery, assess the technical risk involved in acquiring particular products, implement process control measures, track short- and long-term costs in relation to a budget, and continuously identify and mitigate risks in a team environment.

Overcoming these challenges requires a new set of capabilities. Acquirers must understand the operational context of the effort. They must codify the desired functionality into a system that can be implemented. They need to continuously evaluate both the system and the development teams’ ability to meet evolving requirements that reflect changes in timing, cost, and function. They also must identify the risks involved in selecting one development team or set of suppliers over another, and proactively collaborate with the team to ensure that risks are identified and mitigated. In essence, organizations must move from ad hoc acquisition to repeatable and measurable acquisition practices. The Software Engineering Institute (SEI) is helping acquirers to obtain these skills and capabilities by developing the Capability Maturity Model Integration Acquisition Module (CMMI-AM).

Helping Defense Software-Intensive Systems Acquirers Improve their Processes

A collaboration of the Department of Defense (DoD), industry, and the SEI, the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) infrastructure integrates best practices from systems engineering (SE), software engineering (SW), integrated product and process development (IPPD), and supplier sourcing (SS). The CMMI Acquisition Module identifies defense software intensive system acquisition practices that complement CMMI.

For example, CMMI-AM practices are focused both inside the acquiring organization to ensure that the acquisition is being conducted effectively, and outside to help the organization conduct project monitoring and supplier oversight. At the same time, CMMI-AM best practices provide a foundation discipline and rigor that enable products and services to be acquired successfully. In essence, the CMMI-AM presents a structure that helps acquirers examine the effectiveness of their processes, prioritize improvement goals, and achieve them.

During the summer of 2004, SEI researchers piloted the CMMI Acquisition Module with several DoD programs. In these pilot studies, participants evaluated the effectiveness of their acquisition activities, and used the module to establish process improvement programs that comply with Section 804 requirements. (See the sidebar for information on Section 804.) This piloting activity is sponsored by Dave Castellano, deputy director, Systems Engineering, Defense Systems, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Acquisition, Technology, & Logistics (AT&L).

Once the pilot studies have been reviewed, an updated module will be made available for use. However, it is not too early to learn more about CMMI and CMMI-AM.

Government Promotes Acquisition Improvement

The U.S. government has shown its desire to improve the state of acquisition practice in Section 804 of the National Defense Authorization Act.1 This section states, “Service/departments shall establish programs to improve the software acquisition process.” The requirements of such a program include

  • a documented process for planning, requirements development and management, project management and oversight, and risk management
  • metrics for performance measurement and continual process improvement
  • a process to ensure adherence to established process and requirements related to software acquisition

The act also requires that the Office of System Architecture and Investment Analysis (Communications, Command, Control, and Intelligence) and the Undersecretary of Defense AT&L support government programs by

  • prescribing uniform guidance for improving software intensive systems acquisition programs across the DoD
  • assisting the services and departments by ensuring that source selection criteria include past performance and the maturity of the software products offered by potential sources; and serving as a clearinghouse for best practices in software development and acquisition in both the public and private sectors

1 U.S. Congress. “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002.” Calendar No. 163, 107th Congress, 1st Session, S. 1438. Washington, D.C., 2001.

Please note that current and future CMMI research, training, and information has been transitioned to the CMMI Institute, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Carnegie Mellon University.

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