Modernizing DoD Requirements: Enabling Speed, Agility, and Innovation

By Peter Modigliani , Dan Ward , Tyler Lewis , Wayne McGee, Jr.

The DoD needs a modern requirements system to rapidly exploit leading technologies. This includes defining enduring requirements at the enterprise and portfolio levels, an Adaptive Requirements Framework, and an iterative, flexible approach.

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The world is accelerating into the future, but the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) requirements system is stuck in the past. The current approach to generating requirements is too slow to produce results when they matter most, too inflexible to account for an unpredictable environment, and too narrowly focused to satisfy joint warfighting needs across all domain operations.

This paper proposes a three-pronged approach to reforming the requirements process.  First, the DoD should refine what it means by “requirements.” Defining enduring, enterprise-level requirements within major mission areas allows for management at the portfolio level, improving alignment across systems and enabling more flexibility and innovation at lower levels.  Next, the DoD should establish an Adaptive Requirements Framework that parallels the new Adaptive Acquisition Framework and provides new pathways for generating and validating requirements. Finally, the DoD should rethink how programs progress through each of the new pathways.

The DoD should adopt Warfighter Essential Requirements (WER) and a portfolio management approach. As opposed to ideal or ‘perfect world’ requirements for unique platforms, WER express what the warfighter needs to accomplish the mission at an acceptable level of risk.  They do not focus on individual systems but apply at the portfolio level.  As such, they represent a practical level of effort that can serve as the starting point or “aim point” for architects to build system-of-systems or enterprise solutions.  Armed with WER, architects empowered to manage a portfolio of programs can conduct rigorous systems-of-systems analysis and deliver capabilities at speed.  The WER then become the yardstick with which to measure the resilience and effectiveness of potential enterprise architecture options.  Moreover, measures of how a specific force mix performs against these requirements provide a feedback signal, impelling the portfolio to iteratively deliver capabilities to maximize performance. In this way, foundational warfighter needs become enduring and will not be pared down if they drive unacceptable acquisition risk in any individual program. 

Adopting and codifying an Adaptive Requirements Framework would help formally align requirements with the new Adaptive Acquisition Framework. While many of the pathways within this proposed framework already exist, they must be modified to better align with recent acquisition reforms and to reflect the realities of a modern world. For Middle Tier of Acquisitions, the services have imposed overly burdensome requirements bureaucracies for what were intended as rapid prototyping and rapid fielding efforts. The Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) should clarify how these authorities should be used and what requirements processes should apply. For software acquisitions, the “IT Box” model represents some progress toward providing needed flexibility but is still not enough to enable the speed and agility required for modern software development practices. The Department should formalize the requirements process in the new Software Acquisition Pathway within a comprehensive Adaptive Requirements Framework. 

To ensure requirements accurately reflect changing operational needs and technical realities the Department should adopt an iterative, flexible approach to requirements definition and validation. Such a cyclic approach to requirements ensures each new prototype or system provides a capability that is aligned with current operational needs and informs the next round of requirements documents and development efforts. 

2020 presents a unique opportunity to transform the DoD’s requirements system into one that meets the needs of the future force.  Acquisition reforms have produced results, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff champions change, and combatant commanders are tired of waiting for the capabilities they need.  The WER, Adaptive Requirements Framework and an iterative approach are just a few of the solutions needed to enable the speed, agility, and innovation required for 21st century national defense.

Recommendations to Modernize DoD’s Requirements System

1. Organize and empower for change. Ensure that requirements team members are passionate about reform and represent a diverse spectrum of experience and roles, including experts in organizational transformation. Give the team broad direction, clear priorities, and aggressive timelines.

2.  Experiment and learn. Start with the Adaptive Requirements Framework. Then, adopt WER.  Select one portfolio from each service and the 4th Estate to develop a set of overarching, enduring requirements and performance measures. Allow these pilot acquisition portfolios greater flexibility to achieve portfolio objectives by shaping program requirements.

3. Revisit boards and documents. Review the structure, membership, and alignment of the joint and service boards. Start with a clean sheet for new and legacy requirements documents. 

4. Codify decisions and make information accessible. Using the Adaptive Acquisition Framework as the guiding structure, collaboratively rewrite the extensive CJCSI 5123.01H and JCIDS Manual from a clean sheet. Provide simple, clear policy direction in the CJCSI with supporting guidance in the manual. 

5.  Address the human element. Develop a strategy for a more formalized Requirements Management profession. Ensure this strategy includes the billets; education, training, and certification; targeted recruiting; career paths; and engagements with the R&D community, industry, and innovation organizations across the defense community.

6.  Spread the word.  To effectively implement the new processes, provide roadshow briefings, workshops, and just-in-time training for the key roles and teams.