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Interface Management

computer processor on board


The Interface Management process provides a framework to identify, define, manage and ensure compliance with internal and external system interfaces. The Interface Management process helps ensure that developers capture all internal and external interface requirements and requirements changes in accordance with the program’s Configuration Management Plan. Materiel developers also should communicate interface information to their counterparts responsible for affected systems and system elements, and should plan for coherent testing to verify expected performance and, ultimately, operational performance.

Importance of Interface Management

Systems are composed of system elements and may operate as part of larger systems of systems (SoS). The design, definition and management of the physical and logical interfaces, both internal (communications between system elements) and external (communications between the system and other systems), are critical to program success. Both types of interfaces have become increasingly important as system complexity has increased, along with the demands for systems to operate in highly interdependent SoS environments (see DAG CH 3–3.1.2. Systems of Systems). Interfaces play a critical role in all systems and systems of systems that interact to deliver a collective capability. Complex systems consist of numerous interfaces of various types. When the circumstances reach a point that the number and complexity of interfaces can no longer be managed effectively, poor interface configuration control can result in degraded system performance, affordability, sustainability and maintainability.

The use of standard interface specifications enables a modular and open systems approach (see DAG CH 3–2.4.1. Modular Open Systems Approach). Modular, open systems with standardized interfaces facilitate innovation and competition in future technology insertion and refresh efforts for the system. When necessary to use a non-standard interface specification, acquiring the rights to the design as part of the program's Intellectual Property Strategy may be an enabling option.

Explicit management of the definition, development, implementation and test of internal and external interfaces, including any associated dependencies, helps ensure that systems operate as designed and meet stakeholder expectations throughout the life cycle. The DoD Architecture Framework (DoDAF) provides guidance on how to generate operational and system views that describe interface relationships in a manner common across the DoD user community. Interface management should consider programmatic issues (e.g., roles and responsibilities, funding and scheduling) in addition to the technical aspects of systems engineering (SE) and integration.

Interface Management Process Activities and Products

Interface management is an iterative process: as knowledge of the system and system elements increases during design activities, verifiable lower-level requirements and interfaces are defined and refined. Materiel developers should assess impacts of the originally defined capabilities and interfaces, performance parameter thresholds and objectives and the overall system when defining and modifying interfaces.

The Program Manager (PM) and Systems Engineer should ensure that the program’s interface management plan:

  • Documents the system’s internal and external interfaces and their requirement specifications.
  • Identifies preferred and discretionary interface standards and their profiles.
  • Provides justification for the selection and procedure for upgrading interface standards.
  • Describes the certifications and tests applicable to each interface or standard
  • Is consistent with the program’s configuration management plan.

Role of the Program Manager and Systems Engineer

The PM and Systems Engineer should ensure that the developer documents all system interface requirements (see DAG CH 3–4.1.4. Requirements Management Process), places them under appropriate levels of configuration management and makes them available to the appropriate stakeholders. These documented interface requirements serve critical functions at all levels of the system throughout the life cycle, including:

  • Developing functional and physical architectures.
  • Facilitating competitive bids.
  • Enabling integration of systems and lower-level system elements.
  • Supporting system maintenance, future enhancements, and upgrades.
  • Providing input data for continuous risk management efforts.

The Systems Engineer responsible for interface management has numerous key tasks throughout the life cycle, including:

  • Defining and establishing interface specifications.
  • Assessing compliance of interfaces among configuration items composing systems or SoS.
  • Monitoring the viability and integrity of interfaces within a system.
  • Establishing an interface management plan to assess existing and emerging interface standards and profiles, to update interfaces and to abandon obsolete architectures.

The PM should establish an Interface Control Working Group (ICWG) composed of appropriate technical representatives from the interfacing activities and other interested participating organizations. The ICWG serves as a forum to develop and provide interface requirements, as well as to focus on detail interface definition and timely resolution of issues. In the SoS environment, external program offices and developers collaborate as members of the ICWG.


Key terms

Interface Requirements Specification

Statutes, Regulations, Guidance

DAU Training Courses

ACQuipedia Articles

DASD(SE) Initiative

SoS Systems Engineering

Products and Tasks

Product Tasks
19-1-1: Manage system interfaces
  1. Identify interface requirements for the system of interest.
  2. Capture interface requirements.
  3. Track identified requirements in accordance with the configuration management plan.
  4. Assess proposed engineering changes for their impact on interfaces.
  5. Provide recommendations to decision makers on proposed engineering changes.
  6. Document approved engineering changes and their impacts to interfaces in accordance with the configuration management plan.
19-2-1: Evaluate interface management techniques
  1. Identify configuration management techniques described in the acquisition’s configuration management plan.
  2. Identify interface management techniques described in the acquisition’s interface management plan techniques if applicable.
  3. Evaluate identified techniques for compliance with accepted configuration management standards and practices.
  4. Document evaluation results and recommend changes to decision maker.

Source: AWQI eWorkbook