JCIDS Process

Systems Engineering Plan (SEP)

The Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) is a living document that details the execution, management, and control of the technical aspects of an acquisition program from conception to disposal. The SEP outlines how the systems engineering process is applied and tailored to meet objectives for each acquisition phase. The SEP captures a program’s current and evolving systems engineering strategy and its relationship with the overall program management effort. The SEP should include the process and criteria for updating the document.

Definition: A Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) is a “living” document that captures a program’s current and evolving systems engineering strategy and its relationship with the overall program management effort. The SEP purpose is to guide all technical aspects of the program. [2]

Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) Purpose

The purpose of the SEP is to help technical program managers develop their systems engineering approach, providing a firm and well-documented technical foundation for the program. A rigorous technical planning process forces thoughtful consideration and debate, allows for integration and coordination of technical activities across all levels of management, and results in a sound systems engineering strategy commensurate with the program’s technical issues, life cycle phasing, and overall objectives.

Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) Requirement

A SEP is required for all Major Defense Acquisition Program (MDAP) programs unless waived by the approval authority. SEPs are also required for all Acquisition Category (ACAT) II and III programs unless waived by the DoD Component. The USD(R&E), or designee, is the approval authority for ACAT ID program SEPs. The Milestone Decision Authority (MDA), or designee, is the approval authority for ACAT IB/IC SEPs. The CAE will designate an approval authority for all other programs. [3]

  • SEP content for MDAPs and ACAT II and III programs can be tailored with approval by the SEP approval authority.
  • SEPs are a recommended best practice for all other defense system development. This issuance can be tailored, as necessary, for each acquisition pathway.

Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) Key References

The primary reference for developing the Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) in defense acquisition is DoD Instruction 5000.88 “Engineering Defense Systems.”

Reference: DoD Instruction 5000.88 “Engineering Defense Systems” 5000.88

Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) Development

The Program Manager is responsible for the development of the SEP. The SEP should be developed with the Chief Systems Engineer and other subject matter experts. The document is considered a “Living Document” and is updated continually throughout the program. The basic approach to developing a SEP is listed below.

  • Step 1: Break the SEP into functional areas (utilize the template to ensure each functional area is addressed)
  • Step 2: Assign a lead to develop each functional area
  • Step 3: The SEP lead should use formal or informal working groups to address specific planning issues
  • Step 4: Establish a specific plan of action and schedule/milestones (POA&M) to complete
  • Step 5: Develop actual SEP by inputting each function lead and are.
  • Step 6: Submit SE for the review cycle
  • Step 7: Finalize the SEP with the team.

Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) Outline / Template

An outline/template is always a great place to start when developing a SEP. The template will make sure you address all the key areas that need to be addressed in the SEP and give you a great idea of what information is needed. Below is a great template/outline to develop your SEP.

Outline: Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) – May 2023

Reference: DoD Instruction 5000.88 “Engineering Defense Systems” – Nov 2020

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Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) Focus Areas

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) suggests that programs organize the SEP according to five critical focus areas: [1]

  1. Program Technical Requirements: The SEP should define how the program will manage all requirements (statutory, regulatory, derived, and certification).
  2. Technical Staffing and Organization Planning: The SEP should show how the program will structure and organize the program team to satisfy requirements.
  3. Technical Baseline Management: The SEP should establish a technical baseline approach.
  4. Technical Review Planning: The SEP should show how the program will manage the technical effort through event-based technical reviews, including the technical baselines.
  5. Integration with Overall Management of the Program: The SEP should link SE to other management efforts, including the Acquisition Strategy, test planning, sustainment planning, Configuration Management, Risk Management, and life-cycle management.

Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) Required Content

The SEP for Major Defense Acquisition Programs (MDAP), ACAT II, and ACAT III programs will have these parts unless the SEP approval authority says otherwise:

  • Overall technical approach
  • Engineering management approach
  • Architecture design considerations
  • Any engineering trade-off analyses
  • Planning assumptions
  • A description of the program’s integrated master plan (IMP) and integrated master schedule (IMS) process
  • Specific technical performance measures, metrics, and leading indicators
  • Specific technical data
  • Reliability growth curves, assumptions, planning factors, and planned tools and methods for assessing reliability
  • The contract’s requirements for deliverables, technical data, design artifacts, and how often reports are due
  • The rules for when, how, and when not to do technical reviews
  • A description of technical baselines
  • The plan for implementing digital engineering
  • A high-level description of the CONOPS
  • Any technology maturity plans
  • Biggest technical risks
  • The MOSA and program interdependencies with other programs and components
  • Intellectual property (IP) and data rights

Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) Approval

REGULATORY:  A draft update is due for the Development RFP Release Decision Point and approved at Milestone B. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Systems Engineering) (DASD(SE)) is the approval authority for Major Defense Acquisition Programs (MDAP) and Major Automated Information System (MAIS) programs; the Component head or as delegated, will approve the SEP for all other programs. [2] 

SEPs will be approved before the release of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) supporting major program phases to include each major prototyping effort; technology maturation and risk reduction (TMRR); engineering and manufacturing development (EMD); Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP); and Full-Rate Production. [3]

  • The SEP will be included with the Request for Proposal (RFP).
  • As required, the program will update the SEP to address substantive changes resulting from the contract award. The updated SEP, if required, will be approved at least 120 days after the contract award or 30 days before the next technical review, whichever comes first.
  • ACAT ID SEPs will be submitted to the USD(R&E) for review and approval at least 30 days before the required approval date.
  • For other MDAPs, SEPs should be submitted to the designated approval authority within 30 days of approval, with approved SEPs provided to the USD(R&E) for information purposes.

Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) Updates

The SEP is updated as needed to reflect technical progress and changes in the technical approaches stemming from the findings and results of the technical reviews, program reviews, acquisition milestones, or other program decision points. The SEP is updated and submitted for Milestone Decision Authority (MDA) approval at each program milestone. A draft update is due for the Development RFP Release Decision Point and approved at Milestone B.

Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) Development Best Practices

The method used to create a SEP will change depending on the size, scope, and resources of the program. One simple strategy could be:

  • Divide the planning process into key components.
  • Assign each section to a SEP facilitator. The facilitator needs to be knowledgeable in the field they were given.
  • To address particular planning difficulties, the SEP facilitators should organize formal or informal working groups (e.g., Reliability & Maintainability (R&M) engineering planning would use an R&M working group).
  • Create a detailed plan of action and milestones (POA&M) to finish the SEP in line with the goals of the program schedule.
  • Utilize a Working Level IPT (WIPT) for Systems Engineering to address inter-organizational conflicts and include stakeholders in the SEP development process.
  • Make sure that the plans for other programs are effectively coordinated. The SEP must be congruent with other program technical planning documents, such as the acquisition strategy, test and evaluation master plan, life-cycle sustainability plan, and program protection plan. At the proper point, the SEP should link these documents.

Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) Software Planning

The program SEP provides an opportunity to integrate software planning into a program’s overall systems engineering planning. This is critical to ensure proper allocation of resources, schedule development, and overall software understanding.

Visit: Software Planning in the Systems Engineering Plan

Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) Referenced Documents

Key documents that refer to the Systems Engineering Plan and should be coordinated with:


  • The Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) is not a Systems Engineering Management Plan (SEMP).  The SEMP is developed to manage the development of a system by a contractor. It’s written in response to a government SEP and provides a unique insight into applying a contractor’s standards, capability models, and toolsets to the development of a system.
  • The SEP should be established early in the program definition stages and updated periodically as the program matures. Programs can manage cost, schedule, and performance by starting systems engineering processes early and monitoring them through the life cycle.
  • Software planning in the Systems Engineering Plan

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Updated: 2/6/2024

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