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Lessons Learned From Rapid Acquisition of the MRAP

From The Acquisition Corner

There has been some discussion recently on a case study of shortening the procurement cycle from the lessons learned of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. The MRAP is an armored all-terrain vehicle whose purchase and desire for rapid deployment was motivated by the continuing deaths of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan resulting from improvised explosive devices or IEDs. At the time of the purchase in 2007, the Department of Defense (DoD) goal was a rapid acquisition to get the MRAP vehicles into theatre as quickly as possible, but soon became a case study in improving strategies on how the DoD can make future rapid acquisitions for faster deployment. Although the Government Accountability Office report on the MRAP focuses on the specifics techniques for why the MRAP was successful, four tactics in particular were mentioned in Congressional testimony and the report that should be the foundation for other procurements:

Agree on a plan and stick to it. At the start of a rapid acquisition, officials must assess the immediate need and determine minimum requirements for the project, said Thomas Dee, director of the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell at the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics…

This may seem straightforward, but it can be an exercise in frustration by focusing on symptoms of the disease and not the disease itself. The evolution of the MRAP design was successful in part by recognizing that no idea should be invalidated during brainstorming; a key factor in requirements development for rapid acquisitions. Further, rapid acquisitions are most successful with the implementation of information sharing and collaboration; another prime candidate for Web 2.0 tools for an Acquisition 2.0 construct.

Stay with the familiar. At the outset of the MRAP program, DOD officials decided to use only proven technologies instead of testing new ones. They also kept requirements to a minimum with a strict policy of senior-level approval for any changes…

The only way that technology implementations can be successful in general, and certainly with rapid acquisitions, is to baseline requirements and use mature technologies. Baselined requirements form the basis for all work performed on the project for which it was developed, and identifies expected capabilities. It further allows the focus to be on those capabilities agreed upon in the requirements development process, moving the project forward towards the expected capability.

Here is where one of the fundamental breakdowns occurs in technology projects across government; the inability to define requirements combined with the desire to use immature technologies (i.e. Future Combat Systems). By leveraging Web 2.0 technologies and ensuring critical stakeholders are involved in the process, defined requirements can be identified and requirements creep can be eliminated.

Require bidders to show their work. DOD’s competition was full and open, but only road-ready contractors made the first cut. That is because DOD officials required vendors to bring in their vehicles and demonstrate their solutions, which weeded out the companies that had only plans, Brogan said…

Competitive prototyping is one of the most important tools for rapid acquisition, since it requires firms to show actual capability and not just plans or a roadmap on how they expect to get there in the future. This technique was mandated by former Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition & Technology John Young in 2007. In his memo, Sec. Young points to the main culprit in how the DoD procures systems, which is to rely on proposals on paper that provide inadequate visibility into technical risk and a weak foundation for estimating development and production costs.

Relieve vendors of some of the work, if possible. Officials made the government responsible for adding the final pieces of equipment, such as radios, to the vehicles after they were bought rather than putting those tasks on the contractor’s to-do list. That shortcut helped get the vehicles to the battlefield more quickly, said Michael Sullivan, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office…

This goes to the 80 percent solution, in which case the baselined requirements provide the maximum capability possible for rapid acquisition and implementation. This way, the incremental capability can be improved from the baseline through feedback and full end-user input. In the case of MRAP procurement, this approach saved lives, and continues to protect troops as improvements are made to the vehicle through this process.

Lastly, the documentation process can also be a hindrance to rapid acquisition. Therefore, processes outside the DoD 5000 process were developed to help speed up reviews and approvals such as the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell (JRACs) process. However, I think see the future of rapid acquisition through further streamlined processes such as the Business Capability Lifecycle (BCL) process, which is the preferred method of technology insertion and uses best practices in governance and risk management. Again it is the Web 2.0 collaboration tools that can help further streamline processes and reduce cycle time, which will lead to improved response time, lower costs, and more rapid fielding of critical technologies.

Although the MRAP program was greatly helped through its DX designation (and thus declare its acquisition DOD’s highest priority to allow access to more critical materials than was otherwise available), it is the four critical points of the program that can be transferred to other acquisitions. Namely keeping the requirements simple, clear, and flexible, in addition to using mature technologies, are the critical success factors that should be implemented with all procurements to see better results and positive outcomes.

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David Dejewski

Good post! Rapid acquisition is critical to our survival. Lessons learned like these are important for raising awareness. Thanks for sharing!

Taken one step further, the notion of commodity based acquisition (currently being reviewed by AT&L and others) should speed the reform process along. Not all commodities are created (or acquired) equally. The freedom to do away with redundant or unnecessary steps for a particular commodity acquisition is a good starting point.

The ability to agree to a plan and stick with it, that you mention above, is something many people believe is already happening. But those of us with hands on experience a a few years tenure know better. Too often, we have witnessed the buy-now / justify-later approach to “streamlining” acquisition. Without a plan or a repeatable due diligence process to compare individual plans to a DoD master plan, we “oops” our way into hundreds of millions of dollars worth of inefficiencies every year.

Again… good post. Keep the lessons learned flowing!

Jaime Gracia

Thanks David. I too have witnessed large acquisitions without sufficient justification or business cases, which are further hampered by poor process leading to disappointing outcomes. Streamlining processes must be done strategically, with the end-game in mind to standardize procurements, leverage buying power, and improve the supplier base by allowing better competition through better firms that offer higher standards of service to government. I’ll be publishing an op-ed in FCW on this topic, so I appreciate the discussion.