Concept Development

Concept development is a set of activities that are carried out early in the systems engineering life cycle to collect and prioritize operational needs and challenges, develop alternative concepts to meet the needs, and select a preferred one as the basis for subsequent system or capability development and implementation.

Concept development takes place early in the systems engineering life cycle. The success of the subsequent development of a system or capability can be critically dependent on the soundness of the foundation that is laid during the concept development stage. In their definitions of concept development, Kossiakoff and Sweet highlight phases of needs analysis (valid need and practical approach), concept exploration (performance to meet the need, feasible cost-effective approach), and concept definition (key characteristics that balance capability, operational life, and cost).

In this guide, concept development is described as four activities that identify and characterize user needs:

  • Operational Needs Assessment — the application of operational experience to identify and characterize gaps in existing capabilities that are significant impediments to achieving the mission area objectives.
  • Concept of Operations — a description of a proposed system characteristics in terms of the needs it will fulfil from a user's perspective.
  • Operational Requirements — statements that formally, unambiguously, and as completely as possible, identify the essential capabilities and associated performance measures.
  • High-Level Conceptual Definition — a clear description or model of the characteristics or attributes needed to address a specific set of requirements or capabilities.

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