Agile Processes Using Minimum Viable Product Strategies Enable Hardware Development to Deliver Capabilities at Speed

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Modified interior of a CONEX container, fitted for medical use.
Source: Photo by U.S. Air Force

March 8, 2024 | Originally published by United States Army Acquisition Support Center on February 22, 2024

In 2020, the Department of Defense outlined its DOD Instruction 5000.02, “Operation of the Adaptive Framework,” to provide program managers with a variety of options for acquiring weapons systems and defense capabilities. Its goals included empowering program managers to execute simplified and tailorable acquisitions, data-driven analysis, and active risk management while emphasizing sustainment to deliver capabilities faster through the acquisition process. While DODI 5000.02 is a framework that enables flexibility in acquisition, it does not present program managers with methods to shorten programmatic timelines.

Through the Urgent Capability Acquisition process, two programs—the High Mobility Decontamination System (HMDS), a terrain chemical agent decontamination trailer-mounted capability, and the Negatively Pressurized Conex (NPC), a portable isolation room built inside a steel shipping container in order to keep infectious patients from contaminating others on the aircraft transporting them—delivered urgent capability at lightning speeds by using a hybrid approach to acquisition. These programs tailored their acquisition process using methods typical of agile software development despite being hardware-centric systems. Software development companies focus on agile strategies as a primary project management structure; however, agile project management is not common in hardware development in DoD acquisition. The HMDS and NPC teams used minimum viable product (MVP) and iterative prototyping strategies, pillars of software development, to design, develop, test, and deliver hardware systems at the speed of relevance.

Both programs had significant design and development processes and robust test programs while moving in high-pace acquisition environments. The HMDS fielded its initial capability within nine months, and “the first NPC mission was flown 85 days from JUON [Joint Urgent Operational Need] issuance,” retired United States Air Force Col. Paul “Jimi” Hendrickson said in his 2021 presentation “The Negatively Pressurized Conex (NPC) Program – How Acquisition and Systems Engineering Agility Delivered Capability to USTRANSCOM in 95 Days.” The NPC team won the David Packard Excellence in Acquisition Award in 2021, DoD’s highest acquisition team award.

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