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Integrated Engineering Guide

engineers Mar 14, 2023


All USG contractors have implemented systems engineering (SE) across their development teams and programs/projects. And many of them have also embraced some version of digital engineering (DE) including digital twins and MBSE, and are broadening and deepening their DE work. Additionally, many of these contractors have been engaged for decades in some type of mission engineering (ME), calling it operations analysis, operations research, mission/campaign modeling, etc.

Each of these three engineering approaches - - - SE, DE and ME - - - have their own languages, tools, goals, taxonomies and ontologies. And all three are needed.  Each makes unique contributions to a systems development activity.

The ideal arrangement would have the three approaches cooperating and contributing their own unique outputs and design services to an overall systems-design effort.  And we see this operating on some projects and programs.  Each approach offers its unique outputs to the other two approaches, work products are shared, duplication is avoided and systems design, development and testing proceeds smoothly.

Two Main Problems:

Problem #1:

In reality, the most common actual implementation of the three approaches is very different.  The three engineering approaches are not collaborating efficiently with each other and three distinct silos have emerged at most development organizations.

Often, there is minimal cooperation among the three approaches, whose practitioners do not share tools across "party lines", often duplicate activities, squabble about the sequence and priorities of tasks, and sometimes work at cross purposes.


Problem #2:

There is confusion as to what constitutes "Mission Engineering".  The 2020 USG Mission Engineering Guide for DOD is being misused by the contractor (CTR) community, which is (unsuccessfully) trying to force-fit its provisions, constraints and activities into the their various, corporate-unique mission/user-driven methodologies.

Compared to the US DOD MEG, most defense CTRs have a very different methodology for keeping development activities mission-focused.  Typically, a defense contractor's approach must dovetail with other contracts (future or ongoing), and IRAD efforts. The goals are always to save time and money, achieve maximum synergy, and avoid duplication of subsystem development efforts. And many contractor's methodologies involve both a tactical, systems-centric set of activities and a strategic, employment-centric set.  Below is a representative example.


Why Does it Matter?

The current interplay of Mission Engineering between DOD and its contractor force is sometimes dysfunctional, unnecessarily extends development times and increases development costs.   And the Mission Engineering function, both in government agencies and the defense contractor community, is often not sufficiently integrated with Systems Engineering or Digital Engineering.  The result is longer development times, unnecessarily expensive development programs and poorer quality systems delivered to Warfighters. 

So the stakes are high!  If the systems our defenders need are delivered late, if at all; or they eventually cost so much many of them get cancelled; or they get delivered but only partially meet their end users' operational needs, then those systems could have performance shortfalls in combat, and some of our brave military people don't make it home.

One Possible Solution: Find a way to bring (not force) all three engineering approaches together and make collaboration (not just cooperation), tool-sharing and activity coordination and sequencing easy. One way is to use a collaborative catalyst that will synchronize and schedule the outputs of SE, DE and ME.  It should also be a repository for design decisions and trade-offs; stakeholders' evolving needs; changes in operations concepts, system and mission scenarios; and discussions with users.

A Proven Catalyst: The Technical CONOPS: This is a toolkit of twelve proven tools already in use throughout the US and allied defense ecosystem:

  • Single Page Operations Concept
  • Interviews With Four User Groups
  • User-Driven Stakeholder Matrix
  • Operations Concept Analysis
  • Organizational CAFEs (Collaborative, Architectural, Failure-Resistant Engines)
  • Operations and Employment Considerations
  • Structured Scenarios
  • TechCONOPS - Living Document
  • Essential Principles for Systems Development (there are 139 of them)
  • Subsystem CAFEs
  • Flexible Focus by Team Leaders
  • Unflinching Honesty by All Team Members


This course has been taught to USG agencies and the military services, most major US defense primes and six Allied nations.  The course has been updated annually since 2004 with enhancements from military user communities and major defense contractors' engineering staffs.  It is mutually supportive with DevSecOps, Agile and MBSE.


Finally, we have a catalyzing, accelerant methodology that welds together SE, DE ad ME and is unmatched in achieving deep collaboration among those three engineering approaches plus all user­ groups and stakeholders.  One recent study showed a 54% reduction in development costs for a typical, mid-sized, UAS development program at a major US defense contractor.  Email [email protected] for a pdf copy of the study.

The TechCONOPS plus SE, DE and ME is now called the Integrated Mission Engineering Framework (IMEF).  Integrated Engineering in general is apparent on the latest combat weapons systems such as the B-21 Raider bomber. 

The IMEF course is taught primarily to private clients on-site as an instructor-led, hands-on workshop over three consecutive days. But it is occasionally available as a public, virtual class over four days.  So, we can bring the class to your facility (which enables company-proprietary discussions, or you are invited to check our website HERE for course details and the dates of the next public class.

Meet Mack McKinney

Founder of Smooth Projects

As an Air Force officer, radar controller, pilot and seasoned defense contractor, and inventor with US patents in hyperspectral sensing and radar processing, Mack has "walked the walk" of a military systems user and developer. Now, with 40+ years of hands-on experience, he is leading the charge by giving back and training the generations of tomorrow.


 Contact Mack at [email protected]



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