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Research Questions

  1. What approaches can be employed to speed acquisition or minimize schedule growth on acquisition programs?
  2. How can program managers and stakeholders identify the best approach (or approaches) for a given type of acquisition?
  3. What practical matters arise during implementation of these approaches?

Long acquisition times have been a significant concern for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for decades. It is critical to provide capabilities to warfighters in a timely manner relative to the threats faced, and various approaches have been taken to reduce acquisition timelines. To reduce the time required to field operational capabilities, various Department of the Air Force and other DoD organizations have used a wide variety of approaches to acquisition that are more responsive and more agile. These organizational strategies for accelerated acquisition draw on multiple approaches and techniques, including some that can reduce acquisition time compared with norms and others that might mitigate (minimize) schedule growth. In this report, the research team identifies and analyzes various approaches, assesses their suitability for different conditions and types of acquisition, and identifies implementation issues. The team also develops a selection framework and tool that help program managers and leadership identify relevant approaches.

Key Findings

There are several approaches to speeding acquisition, and each approach can be applied in different domains and via several different strategies

  • A common approach to speeding acquisition is to prioritize schedule over cost or technical performance. But there are more-nuanced and varied approaches that can be taken.
  • Agility depends not just on acquisition strategies and processes but also on an empowered workforce and on flexibility and trade-offs in requirements, budgeting, technology, and intelligence activities.
  • Developing new capabilities takes time, so many approaches use mature or commercially available technology to speed initial delivery.

In categorizing the necessary conditions for each acceleration approach, added practical perspectives were found

  • Few approaches are universally applicable. The right one for a given acquisition depends on the conditions for application, domains involved (e.g., requirements, budgeting, acquisition), resources available, and implementation issues.
  • Other financial considerations can speed acquisition beyond simply paying more in costs to get capabilities faster.
  • Perhaps the most hidden (and sometimes forgotten) enabler of rapid acquisition is a highly skilled workforce.

Each approach has practical considerations for implementation

  • Going faster can introduce risks, such as system or acquisition failure, cost and schedule growth, and unintended or unknown side effects (e.g., increased higher sustainment costs or less interoperable systems). Careful consideration should be taken of the possible and even unknown implications of going faster.
  • Approach selection and implementation can be informed by key considerations related to acquisition strategies, acquisition processes, program structures, headquarters structures, requirements, budgeting, and downsides and trade-offs.

Recommendations

  • Program managers and stakeholders can use the methodology and spreadsheet tool discussed in this report to identify potentially relevant agile approaches when developing an acquisition strategy or structuring organizations.
  • Investment in workforce expertise and experience, ready availability of financial resources, and a willingness to accept partial but useful solutions are as important as acquisition process improvements.
  • Although use of this framework produces candidates based on various considerations, the ultimate choice depends on judgments by decisionmakers.

Research conducted by

This research was commissioned by the United States Air Force and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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