Together, the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) invest hundreds of billions of dollars each year to develop and deliver a wide range of systems, from stealth jets to lunar rovers.
Leading companies rely on certain principles to ensure product development success. But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that these federal agencies aren’t generally required to meet such principles.
GAO says leading companies take a disciplined approach to develop innovative products that satisfy their customers’ needs, and to deliver them to market on time and within planned costs. The 13 leading companies GAO interviewed perform similar activities when developing new products, such as iterative design in hardware and software development. These activities in the development process align with the four key principles that help project teams deliver innovative products to market quickly and efficiently. GAO found that the department-wide acquisition policies of DOD, DHS, and NASA implement some key product development principles. But, they have yet to fully implement others. The government watchdog says this gap limits agencies from ensuring a consistent approach to developing and delivering products with speed and efficiency.
Leading companies focus on designing a minimum marketable product—one with the minimum capabilities needed for customers to recognize value. They also prioritize a project’s schedule: they release the features most critical to the customer and will off-ramp non-critical product features—an industry term for removing them from the current release—as necessary, in order to maintain schedule. Additionally, leading companies have mechanisms to solicit and implement feedback from customers early and often throughout development to ensure the product is relevant to customer needs, among other things.
GAO found that primary DOD, DHS, and NASA acquisition policies incorporate many aspects of the four key principles, to varying degrees. However, the watchdog notes that agencies miss opportunities for positive outcomes by not addressing some sub-principles in their policies.
According to GAO:
- DOD’s policies do not require all programs to consider off-ramping non-critical capabilities in order to achieve schedule, hindering programs’ best chance of maintaining time frames.
- DHS’s policies do not require all programs to utilize modern design tools during hardware and software development, limiting consistent opportunities for programs to successfully improve revisions to the design.
- NASA’s policies do not include mechanisms for programs to obtain and utilize product feedback from stakeholders or end users—such as astronauts using spacecraft or the science community benefiting from NASA projects—in order to identify challenges or new features to include in subsequent projects.
GAO is making nine recommendations to DOD, DHS, and NASA to update acquisition policies to fully implement key principles of product development. All three agencies concurred with the recommendations.