Acquisition Program Planning

Definition: Acquisition planning is the process for coordinating and integrating acquisition efforts by using a plan to fulfill agency needs in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost. It includes developing the overall strategy for managing the acquisition. Planning enables the coordinated execution of the various efforts that constitute acquisition management [1, part 2].

Keywords: acquiring capabilities, acquisition, acquisition management, analysis of alternatives, contracting, information technology, program management, scope of acquisition, software engineering, systems engineering


MITRE systems engineers (SEs) support a wide spectrum of federal acquisition management efforts through its federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs). Government acquisition efforts range from purchasing commodities (which MITRE is not involved in), such as commercially available goods and services requiring little or no modification or system integration, to developing major, unprecedented systems that provide new strategic capabilities to resource the various dimensions of U.S. national security.

These federal agencies/departments each have governance frameworks for managing acquisitions through contracts. While there is a "family resemblance" across the frameworks, there are differences as well. Some (such as DoDI 5000.02 [2]) have evolved over many years and are fairly mature, while other frameworks are in their infancy. Federal Acquisitions Regulations (FAR) provides guidance to agencies on policies and procedures for implementing FAR requirements. This includes conducting acquisition planning and execution to ensure that the government acquires systems and capabilities in an effective, economical, and timely manner [1, subpart 1.3, part 7]. However, the FAR does not specify a particular acquisition management or governance framework. Instead, it provides the latitude to put in place an acquisition planning system appropriate for that agency/department [1, subpart 7.102]. The acquisition systems adopted by these departments and agencies are very diverse and require MITRE SEs to adapt systems engineering concepts, principles, and processes to align with the supported agency's acquisition processes and governance/management framework.

MITRE SE Roles & Expectations: MITRE systems engineers are expected to understand the central role systems engineering plays in effectively planning and managing government acquisition programs to acquire products, systems, capabilities, and services to satisfy mission and business needs or modernize enterprises. MITRE SEs are expected to tailor and adapt systems engineering principles, processes, and concepts to match the scope and complexity of the acquisition effort as well as the agency or department acquisition regulations, policies, and governance approaches. They need to be cognizant of program management challenges and issues so they can assume appropriate accountability for the success of the programs they support. SEs may be required to plan the technical work; create, staff, and guide a team or organization to do the work; monitor progress against the plan; and advise the government regarding corrective action to control and redirect the work when needed [3].

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Help your customer take a holistic perspective. MITRE experience addressing the challenges of developing, operating, and sustaining complex systems highlights the need to take a broad view of acquisition, with systems engineering as an integral part of it to be applied across the acquisition spectrum or life cycle.

This holistic perspective of acquisition has taken hold in information technology (IT)-intensive acquisitions (e.g., capital investments) that are part of enterprise modernization initiatives managed under the Capital Planning and Investment Control framework, a component of the Clinger-Cohen Act [4] that contains several provisions for improving the way agencies acquire IT. OMB Circular A-11 [5] provides additional guidance and instructions for the planning, budgeting, acquisition, and management of IT assets.

MITRE systems engineers should articulate the role systems engineering can take in improving the outcomes of IT acquisition programs. Several key areas where systems engineering plays a major role in achieving desired outcomes are discussed in the articles under this topic, along with suggestions on how to address the challenges typically encountered.

Know the customer's acquisition governance framework. Since the maturity of agencies' acquisition governance frameworks differ, MITRE SEs should be aware of their agency's level of maturity and tailor systems engineering practices to the acquisition environment of the supported agency.

Make use of MITRE's collected experience. Provide value by drawing on lessons learned from similar MITRE efforts. Look for common problems and potentially common solutions that can be applied across multiple programs and agencies. This involves conversing in various terminologies to express similar concepts or ideas. In other cases, the same terminology may take on a different meaning. MITRE systems engineers should articulate recommendations, such as courses of actions to address key technical risks, in the language of the supported agency.

Acquisition management metrics: outcome. MITRE systems engineers should ensure that acquisition planning addresses needs using outcome-focused attributes and associated metrics. Questions such as these should be asked and answered:

  • What are the success criteria for the acquisition effort? How will we know when we are done?
  • What mission or business shortfall (or gap) is the acquisition effort trying to address? Can the need (shortfall/gap) be characterized as attributes that broadly define the solution space (i.e., range of potential alternatives for satisfying the need)?
  • Are the attributes/metrics used to articulate the need traceable to criteria established during analysis of alternative solution concepts (e.g., types of investments) for addressing the need?

Outcome-focused metrics provide the information needed for program management and systems engineering activities such as risk and trade space management, test and verification/evaluation, modeling and simulation, design reviews, fielding/implementation decisions, and other acquisition-related milestone decision or knowledge points. These metrics also aid in developing criteria for contract incentive structures to motivate achievement of mission or business outcomes. For further details, see the article Acquisition Management Metrics in this topic.

Analyses of alternatives (AoAs) help justify the need for starting, stopping, or continuing an acquisition program [6]. As such, they may occur at any point in the system (or acquisition management) life cycle. Typically they occur before initiating an acquisition program, or in the case of IT programs subject to the requirements of the Clinger-Cohen Act, they may be used to make capital planning and investment decisions based on a business case analysis. The decision criteria and associated metrics used to select the materiel (or capital investment) alternative should serve as the basis for the metrics used to plan and manage the acquisition effort. More on AoAs can be found in Performing Analyses of Alternatives in this topic.

Performance-based acquisition. Identifying outcome-focused metrics to manage the acquisition effort is consistent with the concept of performance-based acquisition (PBA). PBA (formerly performance-based contracting) is a technique for structuring an acquisition based on the purpose and outcome desired, instead of the process by which the work is to be performed [7]. PBA provides insight into key technical enablers for achieving the required level of performance for a product or the level of service when acquiring services. These factors and associated metrics (preferably quantitative) should serve as a subset of the key performance parameters that define success of the acquisition effort. They should be folded into the measurable criteria for an integrated master plan and integrated master schedule. Cost and schedule must also be considered since achievable technical performance or quality of service is often related. For more information, see the Integrated Master Schedule (IMS)/Integrated Master Plan (IMP) Application article in this topic. For more information on costing, see the article Life Cycle Cost Estimation in this topic.

Using technology as an advantage. Technology can be both an enabler and an inhibitor. Acquiring new technology for a system that is largely dependent on IT or on emerging technology means planning, managing, and executing a program plan centered on reducing the risks associated with IT or the new technology. Use of research and development activities, prototyping, continuous technical assessments, and planned incremental deliveries are ways to mitigate the risks. The program plan should be designed to adapt to either technology evolution or user needs during the program life cycle. Transitioning new technology into the users' hands is also a risk to be considered and managed. More information on technology and transition is provided in this topic in the articles Assessing Technical Maturity and Technology Planning.

Leveraging increased specializationAs the discipline of systems engineering evolves, it increases in span or scope into areas like system of systems engineering and enterprise systems engineering (see The Evolution of Systems Engineering article). It also leads to finer division and differentiation of systems engineering skills. As a result, more than ever, systems engineering is a team sport in which systems engineers must collaborate with and orchestrate the efforts of specialty systems engineers to achieve program success.

Although performance engineering is recognized as fundamental in manufacturing and production, its importance earlier in the life cycle is often overlooked. Performance engineering activities are most often associated with hardware and software elements of a system. But, its principles and techniques can be applied to other aspects of systems that can be measured in some meaningful way, including, for example, business processes. The article on Performance Engineering discusses these two issues and describes where and how to employ the discipline across the systems engineering life cycle.

Systems engineers will frequently team with economic/cost analysts at various stages of the acquisition life cycle to perform investment analyses, and their familiarity with key aspects of prevalent analytic approaches can improve the overall quality of completed analyses and the efficiency of supporting activities performed. The article Comparison of Investment Analyses describes the key aspects of investment analyses, including decisions supported; primary objectives; and general approaches that can be applied.

References & Resources

  1. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).
  2. Department of Defense, December 8, 2008, Department of Defense Instruction Number 5000.2.
  3. Space and Missile Systems Center U.S. Air Force, April 29, 2005, SMC Systems Engineering Primer and Handbook.
  4. 104th U.S. Congress, "Capital Planning and Investment Control," Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996 (now the Clinger/Cohen Act), Section 5112, viewed February 9, 2010.
  5. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OMB Circular A-11, August 2009.
  6. July 2008, Office of Aerospace Studies Analysis of Alternatives Handbook.
  7. U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), Performance-Based Acquisition, last reviewed November 17, 2009.

Additional References & Resources

"3.2 Government Acquisition Support," MITRE Systems Engineering Competency Model, viewed February 9, 2010.


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