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Improving the Acquisition of Software Intensive Systems

August 2000 Technical Report
Dennis Goldenson, Matt Fisher

The SEI surveyed senior acquisition managers about the performance of their organizations, especially on skills and competencies, and issues surrounding the training needed to develop them. The results of the survey are presented in this report.


Software Engineering Institute

CMU/SEI Report Number



Acquisitions of software intensive systems by the Department of Defense (DoD) have often suffered from poor product quality, cost overruns, and schedule slips. In turn, these problems have frequently been linked to the inability of project offices to successfully manage the acquisition of the software components of the systems.

There have been a number of efforts to provide the necessary education and training to improve the skills and capabilities of managers for software intensive acquisitions. However, acquisition problems remain pervasive in the DoD.  

More must be known about the causes and underlying issues surrounding these problems. Specifically, the needs of the acquisition management offices must be better understood to help them improve. This includes a better understanding of how education and training can improve the individual manager's skills and competency related to acquiring such systems. 

To elicit these needs, the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) conducted a survey of senior acquisition managers. The survey focused on the performance of their organizations, particularly with respect to a series of skills and competency areas that may affect an organization's ability to successfully acquire software intensive systems.  

Results indicate that the program executive officers (PEOs) and program managers (PMs) who completed the survey were reasonably well satisfied with the capabilities of their organizations to acquire software intensive systems. In many cases, however, the source of the expertise for such acquisitions were contractors either supporting the organizations or the prime contractors developing these systems. Comparable expertise often was unavailable in government acquisition organizations themselves. From this fact, the need for government expertise in these acquisitions was noted. In addition, the survey queried participants on the best way to obtain this expertise through education and training.  

Finally, recommendations derived from survey results are offered to increase software acquisition education and training opportunities for managers.