Best Practices

Better Management of Technology Development Can Improve Weapon System Outcomes Gao ID: NSIAD-99-162 July 30, 1999

The Pentagon plans to boost its investment in new weapons to about $60 billion in fiscal year 2001--a 40-percent increase over fiscal year 1997. The military has high expectations for this investment: that new weapons will be better and less expensive than their predecessors and will be developed in half the time. However, the Defense Department (DOD) will not meet these expectations using its traditional management approach. Leading commercial firms have changed their practices for developing products and have achieved the kinds of results DOD seeks. Maturing new technology before it is included in products is one of the main determinants of these firms' successes. This practice holds promise for DOD, for immature technologies have been a main source of problems on weapon systems. This report assesses (1) the impact of technology maturity on product outcomes, (2) best practices for managing new technologies and incorporating them into products, and (3) ways DOD can adapt these practices to get better outcomes on weapon system programs.

GAO noted that: (1) the experiences of DOD and commercial technology development cases GAO reviewed indicate that demonstrating a high level of maturity before new technologies are incorporated into product development programs puts those programs in a better position to succeed; (2) the technology readiness levels (TRL), as applied to the 23 technologies, reconciled the different maturity levels with subsequent product development experiences; (3) they also revealed when gaps occurred between a technology's maturity and the intended product's requirements; (4) for technologies that were successfully incorporated into a product, the gap was recognized and closed before product development began, improving the chances for successful cost and schedule outcomes; (5) the closing of the gap was a managed result; (6) it is a rare program that can proceed with a gap between product requirements and the maturity of key technologies and still be delivered on time and within costs; (7) two conditions were critical to closing the maturity gap; (8) one condition is that the right environment for maturing technologies exists; (9) key to this environment was making a science and technology organization, rather than the program or product development manager, responsible for maturing technologies to a high TRL; (10) when a maturity gap persisted, managers were given the flexibility to take the time to mature the technology or decrease product requirements so that they could use another, already mature technology; (11) both technology and product managers were supported with the disciplined processes, readily available information, readiness standards, and authority to ensure technology was ready for products; (12) this support enabled these managers to safeguard product development from undue technology risks; (13) on the other hand, immature technologies were sometimes incorporated into products for reasons such as inflexible performance requirements, increasing the likelihood of cost overruns and delays in product development; (14) product managers had little choice but to accept the technologies and hope that they would mature successfully; (15) however, the pressures of product development made for an environment less conducive to maturing technology; (16) DOD is likely to move technologies to product development programs before they are mature; and (17) the challenge will be whether the lessons learned from cases and initiatives offer an approach that has a DOD-wide application.


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