Cover: Software Acquisition Workforce Initiative for the Department of Defense

Software Acquisition Workforce Initiative for the Department of Defense

Initial Competency Development and Preparation for Validation

Published Mar 31, 2020

by Sean Robson, Bonnie L. Triezenberg, Samantha E. DiNicola, Lindsey Polley, John S. Davis II, Maria C. Lytell


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Research Questions

  1. In the absence of a formal DoD career field of software acquisition, who constitutes this workforce, and what are their roles?
  2. What competencies are needed for an effective software acquisition workforce?
  3. What training and education in these competencies are currently available, what gaps can be identified, and how can resources and options be leveraged to provide relevant training and education on these competencies?
  4. How should DoD track and manage the software acquisition workforce as it is currently constituted?

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) seeks to advance the ability of its software acquisition workforce to rapidly and reliably deliver complex software-dependent capabilities through an enhanced understanding of technical competencies, improvements to education and training, and guidance for workforce management and assessment. Focusing on three primary acquisition career fields—information technology, engineering, and program management—the authors review existing competency models used by DoD and commercial industry, along with industry trends and modern software practices, and gather feedback from stakeholders and subject-matter experts to develop a model consisting of 48 competencies organized by topic: problem identification, solution identification, development planning, transition and sustainment planning, system architecture design, software construction management, software program management, mission assurance, and professional competencies. They also review existing courses offered by the Defense Acquisition University, other DoD institutions, and private and public universities to determine whether and to what extent the courses offer software training and education that corresponds with these competencies, and to identify ways to address potential gaps. Although there is no currently accepted government job title or occupational series for software professionals, and although the competency model thus affords limited utility for assessing current workforce capability, the authors present options for tracking and managing the software acquisition workforce, as well as further steps toward validating the competency model.

Key Findings

Four general, interrelated trends in commercial industry can help guide DoD efforts to identify modern software competencies

  • The sequencing of the activities used in the production of software emphasizes shortening the time between what software needs to do and producing a working product.
  • Developing software architecture tends to be done by an organic ecosystem of teams.
  • Software deployment architectures are becoming increasingly diverse and spread across multiple processors.
  • Automation in the practice of software development is increasing.

Once validated, the RAND competency model, consisting of 48 competencies, can guide software acquisition talent initiatives

  • DoD can use this model to identify which competencies are needed for specific positions, craft position announcements, and determine program needs.
  • If the competencies are needed at the time of hire, specific assessments can be developed and used to ensure that job applicants have the requisite level of proficiency.
  • DoD can also use these competencies to inform assignment decisions and to evaluate training needs.

A list of competencies is necessary but not sufficient to improve software acquisition practices

  • DoD needs an effective plan for implementation and integration.
  • Methods for training, tracking, and managing software professionals need to be evaluated and pursued.


  • Determine who is in the software acquisition workforce by initiating a data call that can identify personnel who perform software functions. Appoint a senior leader with the authority to direct data collection efforts and help ensure that data are accurate and reliable.
  • Validate the 48 software acquisition competencies in the RAND competency model by gathering data through a reprogrammed version of the Defense Competency Assessment Tool or selecting another software program. Limit the number of questions to focus on relative importance of competencies and reduce survey fatigue, and consult a statistician to ensure that the sample of respondents are representative.
  • Plan future validation studies that establish links between performance on competencies and outcome measures.

This research was funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted by the Forces and Resources Policy Center and the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

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