Successful Front-End Engagement
First published May 2013, Crosslink® magazine
Some noteworthy examples of up-front mission-assurance activities at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) include the work of the program engineering acquisition and execution support teams, the Acquisition Center of Excellence, the Program Management Assistance Group, and the SMC Cadre. Each of these functional teams has primary expertise in some part of the acquisition lifecycle, such as the pre-award process, post-award process, requirements definition, acquisition strategy, RFP development, source selection, integrated program baseline planning and reviews, technical reviews, and specifications and standards. Each team uses technical and programmatic experts from the government, program offices, and The Aerospace Corporation.
Engineering Acquisition and Execution Support Teams
The Engineering Acquisition Support Team (EAST) and the Wing Execution Support Team (WEST) have been working to improve SMC acquisitions by assisting the programs in formulating and defining the technical content of space-system acquisition products. Typical projects include concept formulation, requirements development, and preparation of acquisition documents.
For example, during the preparation of a contract solicitation, EAST helps define the program technical baseline, including the associated risks, while balancing the need to apply appropriate specs and standards with the need to manage cost and schedule risk. The team helps tailor SMC standards to the particular program and evaluates the possibility of using the contractor’s documented processes instead of such standards. For example, the government allows EELV to use United Launch Alliance processes on its acquisitions because they have proven successful in the past.
In the execution phase, the program office is required to certify the flightworthiness of the system. Front-end engagement by EAST and continued engagement by WEST facilitate the timely verification of flightworthiness criteria through certification planning in the development cycle. EAST identifies the appropriate program-specific accomplishments that will support the flightworthiness criteria and links them to the requisite technical reviews or deliverables, while WEST performs their verification.
Acquisition Center of Excellence
The Acquisition Center of Excellence (ACE) focuses on developing a lifecycle program strategy based on documented core processes. ACE (also referred to as the center) ensures there are no “congenital defects” in any SMC acquisition in terms of the strategy, RFP, and source selection. The strength of the center lies in its construct of experienced program managers, engineers, andcontracting specialists, integrated as a cohesive team that takes full advantage of the broad expertise within Aerospace.
ACE also works with other authorities to perform independent assessments on Air Force programs at the end of each development phase. Periodically, the center analyzes recent assessments and distils the information for release to the acquisition wings and senior leadership. ACE also engages with program offices at least one year prior to major decision points to provide clear direction and recent lessons learned and to offer technical and programmatic expertise.
Program Management and Assistance Group
The Program Management Assistance Group (PMAG) focuses on providing program execution assistance throughout the entire acquisition lifecycle. The emphasis is on analyzing affordability, identifying cost-avoidance opportunities, and establishing and assessing risks to the program mission-assurance baseline. The group consists of a relatively small and integrated team of interdisciplinary professionals that leverages the full capabilities of Aerospace.
In the current budgetary environment, program affordability is a key concern. PMAG affordability analyses are used by the program office to prepare for contract negotiations. Lessons learned from each program are applied to subsequent affordability analyses. Through its support of PMAG, Aerospace is becoming more involved in cost-effectiveness analysis and cost-avoidance identification.
PMAG has also participated in the development of program mission-assurance baselines at the front end of the acquisition lifecycle. Aerospace leads the development of training workshops and program-specific assistance in the development of an integrated master plan and integrated master schedule. Aerospace provides collaborative assistance to the program offices to ensure consistency between these plans and all other acquisition planning and solicitation documents.
The SMC Cadre coordinates and supplements the efforts of the acquisition planning, program management, contracting, financial management, and engineering organizations. The goal is to provide knowledge and expertise in a collaborative and efficient manner early and throughout the acquisition-strategy development.
The SMC Cadre focuses exclusively on assistance prior to contract award; however, Aerospace has a cadre for complete acquisition lifecycle support, supplying the expertise needed for different acquisition phases. This lifecycle cadre starts working early in the acquisition process—such as with the early strategy session—and proceeds through acquisition-strategy development, RFP release, and source-selection planning and execution. Support continues throughout program execution—hence, this involvement may extend from the technology-development phase through the engineering and manufacturing-development phase and on into the production, deployment, operations, and support phases. The lifecycle cadre is based on a small core team led by a senior advisor from Aerospace with significant program-management experience. The advisor provides continuity and guidance to multiple cadre leads and program managers. All Aerospace products are validated with the core team and approved by SMC, which also coordinates the participating program offices.
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