Tag Archives: Adaptive Acquisition Framework

Adaptive Acquisition Framework — Ready, Set, Contract?

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Image: Defense Acquisition University

NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINEBy Dr. William A. Schleckser

This new Adaptive Acquisition Framework displays a patent willingness to put substantial trust in program managers by moving decision-making authority as close to the program manager as possible.

For this new framework to prevail, there must be trust in contracting officers by moving authority for actions as close to the decision-maker — the contracting officer — as possible.

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“Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord has called the Adaptive Acquisition Framework “the most transformational change to acquisition policy in decades.” Her statement is difficult to argue given the revolutionary nature of the framework’s alterations to acquisition policy and the lack of truly transformational changes seen in acquisition policy and statute over the past 25 years. 

For decades, Defense Department leaders have lamented the laborious, bureaucratic acquisition process and its hindrance to innovative breakthroughs within weapon systems programs.

Many defense technologies, once fielded, lose a non-trivial portion of their relevance due to acquisition delays, a concept identified by former Defense Secretary James Mattis in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The document pointed to processes’ non-responsiveness and a department over-optimized for exceptional performance, both of which come at the expense of providing timely capability delivery to the warfighter.

In response, Lord rapidly pushed out sweeping new guidance in the form of a six-pathway framework — the Adaptive Acquisition Framework — which is designed to put authority and agility back in the hands of program managers. With this newfound ability, executives will transition between pathways in order to speed delivery of capabilities to the warfighter.

Still, acquisition is not a solo sport. Program managers must rely on their team of acquisition professionals to embrace this new paradigm of speed, agility and risk management for this “transformation” to result in real change in capability delivery. But increasing speed, agility and risk sends a measure of anxiety through the vertebrae of the many contracting professionals who have focused on delivering contracts that are protest-proof and rigidly built to withstand the assaults of indistinct scope and performance.

Nonetheless, for the framework to deliver capabilities at the speed of relevance, contracting professionals at all levels must be willing to embrace this revolutionary change.

This change comes with a prerequisite to develop not only new and inventive processes, but an expanded tool box of soft skills necessary to bring about innovation, active management of risk, and corporate synergy to the contracting community that will result in high-speed, low-drag contracting.

The “Contracting Professional’s Career Roadmap” is a nine-step list published by the Federal Acquisition Institute. It provides contracting professionals a succinct overview of gates through which a contracting professional must successfully pass in order to be effective. Curiously, the first stop on this path, “become familiar with the federal acquisition process,” is not a contract-centric element. The federal acquisition process is not contracting, but contracting is a major subset. The process is the overarching method encompassing all relevant skills and functions by which the federal government acquires products and services.

Ironically, the second stop on the roadmap is “understand your role as a contracting professional” within this process. It was not by chance these items are numbers one and two on the path. That is because federal acquisition is a team sport, of which contracting is one player among many. As with any team sport, each player must understand his or her place and responsibilities within the team framework, otherwise the team will fail. The first thing a youth football coach should do is line up new players in formation — both offense and defense — so they can gain an understanding of where their position is in relation to all the other players. A single player lining up incorrectly could result in a penalty or failure for the team to properly execute the play.

Understanding where a manager fits in the overall formation is just as important in the acquisition team. Taking it to another level, each player also needs to understand how his play impacts his teammates. Commentators often praise a great player for their “knowledge of the game.” It isn’t just their knowledge of their specific responsibilities as a player, but the interrelation of how their play improves the play of those around them.

In federal acquisition, each team member must perform with that level of understanding in order for this new transformation to be successful. This may be even more imperative for contracting team members as the contracting processes tend to consume a significant portion of time while they deliberate source selection and performance risk.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Kevin Fahey identified a need to develop a culture of innovation and creative compliance, and enable critical thinking. In order to be innovative, creatively compliant and critical thinkers, department leadership wants acquisition teams to take calculated risks. As Gen. George S. Patton said, taking risks “is quite different from being rash.”

One tool that transforms rash behavior to measured performance is risk management. To take calculated risks, contracting professionals will need to learn how to actively manage risks. Program managers routinely manage risks and, as a programmatic community, have become comfortable mitigating, accepting, transferring or avoiding risks within their programs.

Contracting professionals must learn and implement these skills as they execute contractual actions. No longer will the acquisition community idly await the perfect contract. Perfection late is perfection lost. Too often contract award timeliness was sacrificed in an effort to gain contractual perfection through overly cumbersome approval chains and non-value-added reviews.

Timeliness has also been assaulted by excessive “documentation,” which has been a watchword for the contracting community and for good reason. However, as with any good thing, it tends to be overdone. In some ways the acquisition community may have become overly obsessive and unreasonably compulsive with its documentation, and some streamlining may be in order.

Procedural changes to contracting are only a first step. The real gains may be seen in a closer coupling of the acquisition team functional communities. In today’s continuously changing environment, requirements can no longer be developed in a vacuum only to be thrown over the fence to the next team. Requirement generators, program managers and contracting officers must integrate early and intimately in the requirements process to develop requirements, discuss possible options, perform market research, consider acquisition plans and jointly produce acquisition timelines. Contracting professionals often enter or are invited late into the acquisition process. Contracting organizations do it to themselves when they demand customers only turn over a requirement once it has been fully detailed with the finalized work statement, funding documents and cost estimates.

In today’s rapidly changing environment, contracting professionals better serve customers by entering as early in the requirements generation process as possible. The team must come together so closely and early that it would be difficult for an outsider to identify where program management stops and contracting starts.

If the first time a contracting professional sees a requirement is when it has been fully documented in a formal work statement, an opportunity to bring value to the process has been lost. Additionally, synergies that come from synchronized market research and critical thinking amid the program manager, contracting officer and other acquisition team members are missed; and with it early considerations for competition, innovative contracting and/or small business participation because the requirement has been fixed making change too difficult or time consuming.

Failing to capture the synergistic effects of close coordination, contracting will struggle to regain any status as an innovation enabler, and may continue to be relegated to chasing acquisition timelines and contract perfection.

The Adaptive Acquisition Framework is an opportunity to inject innovation, creativity and critical thinking into the federal acquisition process by placing authority and agility into the hands of program managers. However, this transformational change to acquisitions will not create true transformation unless the players are willing to embrace the change. Program and product managers can only deliver capability as fast as their team supports.

Although the framework is program management focused, it also presents a challenge to — and opportunity for — the contracting community. As a critical component to the delivery of products and services, the contracting community must get on board with the new vision being promoted by leadership. It is a vision overdue given the speed at which technological capabilities are progressing.

More specifically, contracting professionals must understand that timeliness can no longer be held hostage by contractual perfection, overly cumbersome approval chains and non-value-added reviews. Perfection late is perfection lost. As a result, contracting professionals must become intimately integrated early into the acquisition process starting at the notion of the requirement. Otherwise, they risk being a deterrent to the innovation and creativity crucial in today’s fast-moving environment.”

https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2020/5/29/adaptive-acquisition-framework-ready-set-contract

Dr. William A. Schleckser is a professor of contract management at the Defense Acquisition University. He is Defense Department Level III certified in contracting and program management.

Pentagon Intellectual Property And Enterprise Tool Challenges

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Image: DAU

FEDERAL TIMES

The Pentagon is in the midst of releasing a flurry of guidance related to its new adaptive acquisition framework. The public got its first look at the software pathway early in January when a Navy official informally released the interim guidance.

Besides the usual bureaucratic challenges of documentation and approval, two highlights could make or break the Pentagon’s ability to move fast on software.

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“Like the middle-tier acquisition pathway, the budding software pathway is exempted from the regular requirements and milestone review processes. But software programs must still submit abridged requirements documents through a parallel, but “expedited,” approval process. Similarly, an acquisition strategy and set of metrics must be submitted in lieu of formal milestone reviews.

Intellectual property

A crucial component of the acquisition strategy is a plan for intellectual property (IP). As the recently released intellectual property policy specified, IP plans emphasize “the criticality of long-term analysis and planning during the earliest phases of the program.” Long-term planning is required for IP so that specified terms and pricing can be set up front, for such things as who owns the data, whether third-parties can modify the code, and which interfaces will be used. But if used improperly, it could lock in technical plans at the expense of course correction.

The IP process may run against the stated intentions of the software pathway policy — that programs use agile development methods. Some of the values from the Agile Manifesto include: responding to change over following a plan; collaboration over contract negotiation; and working software over comprehensive documentation. The requirement of defining all IP needs upfront runs counter to the values of agile.

If software is supposed to be incrementally released, then the definition of IP needs and pricing should also be an iterative exercise. Otherwise, the Pentagon’s IP policy would in practice necessitate a waterfall planning process. Developers would have to execute within the constraints of the IP plan.

Enterprise tools

The challenges of defining — and the unresolved problem of pricing — IP rights may be alleviated by a second highlight of the interim software policy: enterprise tools. Using government-owned infrastructure and platforms, many parts of the software program do not need to be recreated and separately priced. Firms can compete primarily on the application layer.

Building on enterprise tools like a government cloud, for example, would have saved the Pentagon from its IP struggle with Lockheed Martin over F-35 sustainment data. The company claimed ownership of data collected by the Automated Information Logistics System and stored on its premises. Data reports delivered to the government had Lockheed’s proprietary markings.

The U.S. Air Force has taken the lead in standing up enterprise tools for the services. Chief Software Officer Nicholas Chaillan is in the process of releasing the Unified Platform layer upon which applications can be built and deployed. The Air Force has increased funding for its Unified Platform and related elements from just over $55 million in fiscal 2019 to a request of nearly $100 million in 2020.

The Unified Platform will in turn run on government cloud solutions, which will incorporate the forthcoming Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, contract expected to run $10 billion over the next 10 years.

Chaillan explained. “You go to big companies, they have infrastructure cloud team, they have a platform team, you don’t have each software team building the entire stack from scratch. They can reuse all these existing enterprise capabilities in terms of testing and security.”

Enterprise tools help minimize the amount of effort, and thus IP planning, required of individual software efforts. By reducing the cost of building and operating new applications, more modularized software can be written by competing suppliers. It increases participation from companies of all sizes.

With viable alternatives not only in development, but in operations, tugs and pulls of the market may reveal efficient pricing for IP without lock-in effects from sole-source providers. In other words, the government will be less reliant on lifecycle planning and cost data.

By building on government-owned infrastructure and platform layers, applications can be modularized and priced incrementally. That will help bring the business team into a culture that supports agile developers. Enterprise tools may then help move the software acquisition pathway away from “water-agile-fall” and toward a real agile development process.

Investments in enabling tools and technologies can accelerate program developments. They should be given higher funding priority as programs in themselves. If enterprise tools are built, the question remains whether the services and contractors will adopt them.”

https://www.federaltimes.com/opinions/2020/02/10/obstacles-and-opportunities-in-the-pentagons-software-acquisition-pathway/