Establishing a collaborative work environment

Posted on: July 27th, 2016 by Lou Wheatcraft No Comments

– In this first part of this blog, I introduced the benefits and need for organizations to include CMLs in their systems engineering processes.

– In the second part of this blog, I went into more detail defining and explaining the activities and outcomes for each CML.

– In the third part of this blog, I showed how CMLs are an implementation of an older concept referred to as “The Doctrine of Successive Refinement.

– In the fourth part of this blog, I presented some tools to help implement, manage, and mature the project through the various CMLs i

– In the fifth part of this blog, I discussed the applicability CMLs to other product development approaches including incremental and spiral development.

In this final part of this blog, I discuss the need for organizations to establish a collaborative work environment to help concept maturation and study/design teams to quickly mature system concepts through the early CMLs.

To support “rapid development and acquisition” philosophies, organization’s need to provide a collaborative work environment conducive to the activities that take place during CML 1 – 4.

To streamline the system development process, organizations need to move to a “lean” project management and system engineering organization and adopt an agile product development approach.  Key is for the organization to enable their teams to work in these environments, cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy, streamlining development and acquisition processes, reducing the number of reviews, etc.

To be successful, the study/design team needs to include subject matter experts (SMEs) with the experience and expertise to foresee potential issues during later project phases and  include actual users who understand the problem and what an acceptable operational solution needs to include.. When forming the team, it is also important to use younger personnel who are not afraid to ask “Why are we doing it this way?” and older, more experienced personnel who can answer that question, but are open to new ideas and innovative approaches to addressing the problem solution.  The team also needs to include personnel who represent the various lifecycle stages, especially those involved in design, acquisition, manufacturing, test, operations, and maintenance.  To be effective, these teams need to be kept small:  7 +/- 2 is a good number.

NASA has recently released a two volume document titled: “Expanded Guidance for NASA Systems Engineering”. In volume 2, Section 7.2, Concurrent Engineering, they discuss the need for and advantages of establishing a collaborative work environment.   In a collaborative work environment, team members are often collocated and are provided the tools, data, and supporting information technology infrastructure in an integrated support environment that can be immediately used by the team.  In this type of collaborative environment, questions can be answered immediately, or key participants can explore assumptions and alternatives with the stakeholder team or other study/design team members and quickly reorient the whole team when a design change occurs. The collaboration triggers the creativity of the engineers and helps them close the loop and rapidly converge on a feasible concept.

Organizations that are pursing this approach may call the team and associated work environments various names: Team X, A Team, Rapid Mission Architecture, Integrated Design Center, Advance Concepts Office, Concept Design Center, Concurrent Design Facility, Skunk Works, etc.

One example is NASA’s Glenn Research Center’s COMPASS (Collaborative Modeling for Parametric Assessment of Space Systems) Team was established to meet the need for rapid mission analysis and multi-disciplinary systems design for in-space and human missions. The COMPASS Team is a multidisciplinary, concurrent engineering group whose primary purpose is to perform integrated systems analysis, but it is also capable of designing any system that involves one or more of the disciplines present in the team.

Another example is the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM).  They have created SOFWERX, an institute designed to facilitate communication between the technology community and U.S. Special Operations Command.  SOFWERX is both a program and a place near Tampa Bay, Florida.  SOFWERX creates a network of collaborators enabling a very agile and rapid acquisition process. A goal of SOFWERX is to create processes and venues to make it easier for individuals with innovative ideas and technologies to collaborate to solve a problem and rapidly identify, procure, and release the solution into the field.  The program holds rapid prototyping sessions where a group gets together to discuss and analyze a particular problem to figure out how to move a state-of-the-art capability forward to solve a specific problem. SOFWERX regularly holds capability collaboration sessions bringing together operators, technical experts, acquisition officials, industry representatives and academia to work on new ideas.  SOFWERX is equipped with 3-D printers and other tools for rapid prototyping to quickly get the job done in-house.


The use of CMLs provide management and study/design teams an approach that facilitates discussions of concept maturity, provide a basis for improved concept development practices, and help establish reasonable expectations based on the maturity of the concepts in consideration.  It is not advisable to assume that a project “magically” has reached CML 5 and its scope is ready for baseline just because someone has written a System Concept Document.  By adopting the CML approach, project teams will be expected to do the work necessary to mature their system concepts and progress from CML 1 to CML 5 before they are allowed to baseline their scope and proceed with the next development lifecycle stage.

Management must determine when the concept is mature enough to fund the next lifecycle stages  within the acceptable risk profile.  For identified risks that are manageable, a plan for mitigating the risks needs to be put into place.  CMLs provide a standardized mechanism for describing and communicating the products/activities required for achieving a given CML and for identifying work remaining to proceed to the next level.  CML(s) address the broad scope of systems engineering, technology, and programmatic parameters, and are useful for identifying analysis gaps and areas requiring more in-depth evaluation. It is important to note, that for each CML level achieved, the system fidelity, system definition accuracy, and its implementation is more clearly understood. As a result, the development risk is lowered as comparted to approaches that do not use CMLs to define and manage system development.

CMLs can be used as part of any system development approach whether waterfall, incremental, or spiral as well as any procurement/acquisition philosophy: classic or rapid. To implement a successful CML approach, it is important for the organization to enable the formation of a collaborative team and provide facilities and capabilities to allow the team to perform the work needed to quickly mature their concepts.

In the classes that Requirements Experts teach, we make the point that all projects should strive to deliver a winning product – one that delivers what is needed, within cost and schedule constraints, with the desired quality.  To do this, projects need to have a clear vision, knowledge, and be able to stay on course.  Using CMLs will help to do this so that project teams can deliver a winning product – the first time!!!



– Judson, Jen, Special Operations Command Breaks Down Buying Barriers, Defense News, May 2016,

– NASA Expanded Guidance for NASA Systems Engineering, Vol 1 & 2, March 2016

– NASA, Glenn Research Center, COMPASS,

– Oehmen, Josef, Editor, The Guide to Lean Enablers for Managing Engineering Programs, Version 1, Joint MIT-PMI-INCOSE Community of Practice on Lean in Program Management, May 2012,

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Requirement Development, Requirement Management | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leave a reply