18 January 2010

MOSA Makes Me Sad

I recently came across the term MOSA, which stands for Modular Open System Architecture (or Approach, depending on the source). As one source explains, "Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) is both a business and technical strategy for developing a new system or modernizing an existing one." That document goes on to explain that MOSA helps project teams to:

1) design for affordable change
2) employ evolutionary acquisition and spiral development, and
3) develop an integrated roadmap for weapon system design and development.

Although I think terms like "integrated roadmap" are kinda dorky, I really dig MOSA. At the same time MOSA makes me sad.

First, what I like about it. It's a very thoughtful approach to dealing with uncertainty and change. MOSA is FISTy in its preference for affordability, simplicity and iterative design. It provides practical, actionable principles and tools for engineers and managers alike. It seems like it would be a very constructive approach. I LOVE that it addresses both the technical and the business side of things.

So why does it make me sad? It was adopted by the DoD in 2004... and I just heard about it a few months ago. It was incorporated into DoD 5000.1 (the policy directive for defense acquisitions), but it seems to have fallen by the wayside anyway. It was adopted by the Open Systems Joint Task Force, which is no longer in existence. There's a cool MOSA website, featuring a tool called PART (Program Assessment and Rating Tool) and several documents... and I'm not sure anyone's using it.

In short, MOSA achieved a level of official acceptance that I can only dream of for FIST... and it just isn't being used. Do a google search for MOSA and the first thing that pops up is the Monmouth Ocean Soccer Association. Really? Ocean Soccer? What's that? There are also links to the Midwest Organic Services Association and the "Montgomery Otsego Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority." Come on, that doesn't even spell MOSA! That's MOSSWMA!

There's an asian bistro and a radio network named MOSA and even a Museum of Sentimental Art. But the first three pages of results didn't provide any links to the Modular Open Source Architecture (approach). I didn't look any deeper into the Google results than that.

This is kinda discouraging because MOSA advocates got so much farther than I did with FIST... even farther than I probably ever will. But despite their success in officially integrating MOSA into the formal guidance, creating a snazzy website, etc... it seems to have fizzled. Damn.

Or maybe it's being used all over the place and I just haven't heard about it yet. That's possible. I hope so.


Craig Brown said...

maybe they need to get themselves an SEO expert :)

Catmeal said...

Sorry it takes me a few days to respond to things. I don't get much computer time at home...
As a fan of enterprise architectures and having had a hand in designing an enterpise business system, I've heard of MOSA before and have some insight. 1. MOSA is like bandwidth - people know it's good, but they're not really sure why. They just know they need it.
2. Like many aspects of architecture philosophy, MOSA is relegated to a subset of our industry, in this case, communications and computer stuff, because it's most tangible there. We could easily expand this philosophy and apply it to everything we do, but that would be impractical for two reasons: a) to expand it, we would have to explain it in abstract terms and give examples where it's already been successful. Lean suffers from this same dilemma. In the abstract, it's a philosophy, but since it was born in the manufacturing sector and is most easily illustrate there, many people have difficulty letting it mature in other areas; b) incorporating a concept like MOSA into mature, opinionated adults is very difficult because it would displace some of their existing beliefs and force them to change their way of thinking. No, MOSA education should first be worked into the minds of our younger workers and allowed to mature over a generation or two.
3) The real money isn't in MOSA. Think about it - the defense industry has out-sourced much of our engineering, manufacturing, design, etc., skills to industry. Different companies compete for our attention by offering systems and the accompanying software that THEH developed and that only THEY can support. They don't make their money in the sale; they make it in the after-market supply and repair businesses - they make it with modifications and spirals once the hook is firmly implanted. Concepts like MOSA negate their competitive advantage.
4) This is somewhat redundant, but MOSA has a communications problem. It's so far from the pointy end of the spear that the decision-makers don't have the attention span to hear a detailed enough description to appreciate its simplicity, utility, and value. It's up to us to absorb the concept and weave it into everything we do. Philisophically, it's like putting medicine in a dog's food. It's good for him, and he has no need to know it's there.
There's probably more to explore on this topic, but alas, the hour is late, and I really want to comment on another posting before I crash...