Technology Planning

Definition: Technology planning is the process of planning the technical evolution of a program or system to achieve its future vision or end-state. Technology planning may include desired sponsor outcomes, technology forecasting and schedule projections, technology maturation requirements and planning, and technology insertion points. The goal is a defined technical end-state enabled by technology insertion over time. Note that sometimes this is referred to as "strategic technical planning" (STP) applied at a program level, although the preferred use of the STP term is at the enterprise or portfolio level [1].

Keywords: technology evaluation, technology plan, technology planning, technology roadmap

MITRE SE Roles and Expectations: MITRE's role as a strategic partner with our sponsors requires us to focus on the up-front planning stages of sponsor programs, including defining the technical direction of a particular program. MITRE systems engineers (SEs) working on technical strategy and planning are expected to understand the vision and mission being addressed by that plan and how technology can be brought to bear on solutions to meet them. MITRE SEs are also expected to acquire and maintain insight into developing technology to provide a timely "honest broker" perspective in technology planning. MITRE SEs are also expected to bridge user and research communities to better align government research investment and direction with future operational mission needs.

What Is Technology Planning?

For an acquisition program, the technical direction may be defined by generating a program-level technical strategy documented in a technology plan or roadmap. Given the current state and constant change of technology, without common guidance, individual organizations may use their own methods and technologies in ways that can actually hinder adaptation. A technology plan provides the guidance to evolve and mature relevant technologies to address future mission needs, communicate vital information to stakeholders, provide the technical portion of the overall program plan (cost and schedule), and gain strong executive support. It should be a basis for an ongoing technology dialog between the sponsor and systems developers.

Strategic technical planning embraces a wider scope than an individual program and can cover a wide range of topics. It can be organization or portfolio focused, enterprise-wide, or system focused. A program's technology plan may be linked to an organizational or enterprise "strategic technical plan" [2, 3]. It should also serve as the companion to the program's business or mission objectives because business or mission needs and gaps drive the technology needs. At the same time, technology evaluations inform the technical planning activity of technologies to achieve the technical vision or end-state. The resulting technology plan serves as the roadmap for satisfying the gaps over time to achieve the end-state. These relationships are depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Technology Planning Bridges Business, Mission, and Technology Domains

Technology Plan Components

A technology plan is a key enabler for the systems engineering function. Based on the future mission or business needs, it defines a desired technical end-state to evolve toward. Because that end-state may not be achievable with current technology, it is important to determine which technologies are available now; which technologies are in development, including their maturity levels (see the SEG's Assessing Technical Maturity article) and which technologies do not yet exist. This helps influence an investment strategy that can focus on and push the state of the art, and it helps identify requirements that are not achievable at all or may be cost prohibitive.

Technologies requiring further investment and maturation should be assessed as part of the technical planning process. Appropriate risk should be assigned to technologies assessed as immature, with the need for concomitant mitigation plans. Technologies that have been in the research and development (R&D) phase for an extended period (over five years) should be assessed for the maturation trend to determine if additional investment would significantly improve the maturity.

At a minimum, the plan should include identification of all technology being brought to bear for the solutions, the maturation and trend of applicable technologies (forecast), insertion points, required investments, and dependencies.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

The process of developing and implementing a technology plan should include the following activities [4]:

Evaluate the environment for innovative uses of technology. What is changing in the environment that needs to be taken into account or can be exploited? Where is industry headed and what are its technology roadmaps?

Define desired results. Where does the organization want to be within a planning horizon, usually 5-10 years? Envision the future as if it were today, and then work back to the present.

Identify the core technologies needed for meeting the vision and focus on those first. Assess the risks for maturation and focus on investment and mitigation. If the risk is very high, the choice is to wait and depend on the "bleeding edge," or embark on a serious investment program. The criticality of the technology and/or mission drives this choice. If it is indeed a core technology and critical to the success of achieving the end-state, significant investment will need to be applied to buy down the risk. One example of this is the government's choice to invest heavily in cybersecurity.

Identify the remaining technologies applicable to the mission or business area end-state. But, don't become enamored with technology for technology's sake! Keep it simple and focused on the end-state.

Establish a quantifiable feedback system to measure progress. Define what must be done and how it will be measured to determine progress. Define measures of success to gauge whether the implementation of the plan is progressing successfully. Adjust the plan accordingly. Measuring return on investment for those technologies requiring maturation can be challenging; make allowances for failures depending on the assessed risk.

Assess the current state of the organization implementing the plan. Are resources (staff, funding) and processes in place to effectively implement the plan? Are the required skills available?

Develop tactical plans with measurable goals to implement the strategy.

Form the roadmap. Develop the phasing, insertion points, associated R&D investments, work plans or packages, and sequence the activities within each functional and major program area in the tactical plan to form the roadmap. Allocate resources and tasks and set priorities for action during the current year.

Assess the life-cycle costs of technology. Take care not to underestimate the life-cycle cost of technology. This can be difficult. Industry investments in new technology tend to be closely held and proprietary. Often, the full product or prototype is not made visible to the sponsor until it's ready for sale or deployment. So, usually there is a lack of technical detail and understanding of the whole product or technology and its application to the mission area. The result can be increased costs for integration, maintenance, and licensing. Licensing for proprietary special purpose technology can be particularly costly. An alternative is a sole-source relationship.

Educate the organization and stakeholders on the plan and its implementation. Communicate with stakeholders and users using their operational terminology and non-technical language. Users won't support what they can't understand and can't clearly link to their mission. Communicate the plan to outside industry, government laboratories, and associated R&D activities to ensure understanding and form or solidify relationships. The technology plan can be a tool to collaborate on shared investment strategies toward achieving common goals.

Implement the technology plan. Monitor, track, and make adjustments to the plan according to periodic reviews.

Review the technology plan. Review annually or in other agreed period by iterating the preceding process.

References and Resources

  1. Swarz, R. and J. DeRosa, 2006, A Framework for Enterprise Systems Engineering Processes, The MITRE Corporation.
  2. Byrne, R., June 2, 2005, A Netcentric Strategic Technical Plan (STP).
  3. MITRE Mission Planning Team, November 2006, JMPS Strategic Technical Plan Ver. 3.0.
  4. CC2SG Technology Planning Team, October 5, 2005, COCOM C2 Systems Group Technical Planning Process.


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