In keeping with the Defense Department's ongoing Better Buying Power program, critical thinking and incremental approaches are two central tenets in new acquisition guidance that the Pentagon recently released.

Rather than specific rules often found in older guidance, DoD Instruction 5000.02 "emphasizes tailoring of program structure, content and decision points to the product being acquired," Frank Kendall, DoD under secretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, wrote in the memo that accompanied the guidance on Jan. 7.

For example, instead of providing a single model for acquisition program structure as in previous documents, 5000.02 provides multiple examples of acquisition programs for different types of systems. One model outlines potential approaches for buying for hardware-intensive programs, while another models for software-intensive programs unique to defense.

The examples are designed to serve as an initial step for program managers to determine the best approach to acquiring a given system or product.

"These models, however, are not alternatives from which a program manager must choose; they serve as examples and starting points that can and should be tailored to the actual product being acquired," Kendall wrote.

Overall, the document aims to help managers implement rapid, incremental acquisition and fielding that can be tweaked along the way according to changing requirements and lessons learned. Those measures are part of broader ongoing acquisition reform efforts under Better Buying Power, the third iteration of which is expected in the coming months.

In the acquisition community, efforts to make the defense acquisition process adaptable to fast-moving commercial technology largely have been met with appreciation. Still, potential conflicts could loom down the line as program managers work to implement a process that hinges on critical thinking, the construction of business case analyses and deliberate decision-making – potentially time-consuming exercises – rather than adherence to specific rules as in the past.

"Everyone has the best intent for tailoring, but it all comes back to…this streamlining effort designed to make acquisition go faster and keep up with industry. They're supposed to be able to buy commercial off-the-shelf products and keep up with the cutting edge, but if it takes two years to go through the lifecycle and get something in place, that's an issue," said Josh Hackett, an industry analyst and partner at Zygos Consulting. "Better Buying Power 3.0 is all about critical thinking and doing the smart thing – the point is to get [program managers] to think about what they can do to streamline and create efficiencies and save money."