A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Lao Tzu

While a great designer can have the best idea, find the best location, amass the best materials, and hire the best workers, if the structure never gets built, then what is the point? This analogy actually goes a bit further because even if a Digital Engineering Strategy (DES) results in transforming an organization along a number of levels, it is not a ‘fire and forget’ process, but rather something that must be guided, coached, supported, evolved into the future to achieve a level of change resiliency.

You cannot spend your time and money striving to meet your future customers’ unmet needs if legacy applications and antiquated processes consume your IT budgets.

Mark Reisig – Why Digital Transformations Fail

Focus Area #5, in many ways, is the most important of them all: can the culture/workforce effectively change and be developed to a fully-functional digital engineering team? Following along the lines of the DoD’s 2018 DES, there are several key aspects to be addressed:

  • Leadership
  • Strategy and Implementation
  • Communication and Engagement
  • Training and Education
  • Continuous Improvements

Leadership: Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk

Strategic initiatives, such as implementing a DES, can be especially vulnerable, if not impossible to accomplish, when leadership is not fully on-board. Sometimes leaders get caught up with buzzwords they are struggling to understand, or they find themselves at the whims of others’ agendas. For instance, it can be a challenge to describe the benefits of across-the-board DE improvement when the only language being spoken is shareholder value. It thus takes a competent and mindful leadership team that can translate the value of transformation into outcomes that align with the organization’s influential stakeholders.

Listen/Watch Dr Will Roper Explain the Impacts of Digital Engineering, the Digital Thread, Digital Twins, etc

Strategy and Implementation: You Get What You Reward

Once there is sufficient buy-in at the upper levels, it then requires a careful, thought-out strategy to guide the organization to the digital engineering vision – in essence, the workforce needs to ‘see what you see‘ to value the effort and stay committed to it.

This process must take into consideration characteristics of the workforce, the economic environment, and the status of other supporting processes such as contracting, legal, procurement, etc. Is the current workforce one in which it can accommodate significant change? How much and over what time period? Will the current fiscal/economic climate of the market and/or the company present itself as a change obstacle? Are other, non-engineering departments ready and able to accept new digital ways of operating? For instance, can the procurement department evolve to consider not only digital submissions of RFPs, but also the digital sharing of models and data to enhance concept communication?

Communication and Engagement:

By understanding the overall environment of change, leadership can then adapt its methods of communication and DE knowledge management to work towards sustainability and resilience. Implementing policy changes, supplementing guidance, and delineating standards and specifications will go a long way to enshrine mindful DE behaviour in the workforce. It is critically important that DE engagement occurs at all levels, and that that engagement is still open to innovation in DE implementation.

Extending the DoD Digital Engineering Strategy to Missions, Systems of Systems and Portfolios – 22nd Annual NDIA Systems and Mission Engineering Conference, 23 Oct 2019

Training and Education:

If the level of DE competency can reach a critical internal mass, then the organization is on its way to becoming resilient in terms of how it adapts its digital engineering approach. The organization must look to teach and use common terms, develop shared conceptual frameworks, and establish a DE baseline approach across the enterprise. A successful implementation will reap the rewards of improved knowledge transfer across verticals to reduce the time to develop new team members to optimum performance, and to reduce the impacts of workforce turnover.

Digital Engineering Resources: https://www.digitalengineering247.com/topic/tag/Leadership-Profile

Continuous Improvement: If You Fire and Forget, Forgetting Will be Contagious

Engineering and innovation are constant companions. The challenge for the organization is to establish mature DE processes, architectures, and tools that drive capability development forward, but not make the structure so rigid that it is unable to ‘bend’ to accommodate new DE ideas. Sharing and collaboration on models is definitely one important DE activity, but so is the sharing and networking across the organization (and perhaps inter-organization) to encourage, develop, curate, refine and enshrine new DE strategies for staying resilient.

Examples of Digital Engineering and Mission Engineering Seminars/Webinars can be found at https://mitre.tahoe.appsembler.com/blog


Implementing a DES is a daunting task for any organization of any size. The decision to improve its engineering practice via greater leverage of existing models/data across the enterprise and across system lifecycles requires a top-down approach – the change needed involves many stakeholders and cannot occur via isolated organizational ‘pockets’.

Once that leadership decision has been made, it then requires a well thought-out strategy to engage the workforce and help them align their values and beliefs to that of an organization that is ready to implement DE practices, processes and tools. Constant communication across all levels is extremely important, and training initiatives must be re-vamped to also come into alignment with expected DE outcomes.

Finally, the organization must be mindful to keep its DE approach to be both sustainable and resilient. Via constant change, dialogue, feedback, research and innovation, the DES should expect to evolve over time to best meet the future acquisition and capability development needs of its clients.