As a certification expert and auditor, I see my fair share of DO-178C and DO-254 plans. No matter where in the world, no matter the project DAL or team experience, I consistently see teams struggle with including the right kind of information in their plans.

First, if you’ve never worked on a DO-178C/DO-254 program before, starting with a good set of templates (with lots of examples and explanatory text) is a very helpful thing. They will provide you the layout of the document with all the pertinent objectives you need to meet. But templates are just that – templates for you to fill in all your pertinent project and process data. Most teams focus on how they are going to meet an objective, which is good, but insufficient.

So what are the most common things missing from these plans? It’s simple really. Just remember the 3 W’s – Who, What and Where – for every objective you need to meet. To be clear, you must answer:

  • Who is going to do the work (and How they are going to do it)
  • What will be produced
  • Where this evidence will be located

Let’s look at these a little more closely and consider an example.

To answer the “Who” question, you need to identify the team member, not necessarily by name, but by role and/or function within the organization, who will perform the task. To answer the supporting “How” question, this is really where you describe through what means you’ll perform the activities required to meet the objectives. Most folks focus on the “how” in their plans, since this ties to the activities they will perform, but forget about the other three W’s. To answer the “What” question, this is the output or evidence from the activities. DO-178C/DO-254 are all about demonstrating compliance, so this output of the activity is the proof that an auditor will require to ensure you did what you were supposed to. So where will they find it? That’s the “Where” question.

So for example, consider the objective of capturing requirements. If your plan states that you will have requirements, this is insufficient. It’s a given your project will have requirements that someone will document that will exist somewhere.  You need to state who in the organization (i.e., what role) is the responsible party for documenting the requirements. This list of roles and responsibilities should be clearly documented in your plans. In terms of how, you may say that you will be using DOORs (or some other tool) to capture the requirements. This is fine, but insufficient without stating the final form of the data that will provide evidence of the requirements capture. You need to answer what the team and auditors will be reviewing, and where this data will be located. For example, you may export the requirements from DOORS into a Word document or Excel Spreadsheet, which will be located in a certain directory and controlled via a version management system.

While it seems like a given, you’d be surprised at how many times I go into an audit and the project leads says “I know we did this, but I can’t find the data.” By clearly planning who will be doing the work, what will be the data resulting from that work, and where it will exist is sure to make your audits (and whole project) go a lot more smoothly.

As an auditor, this is how I evaluate plans and the teams themselves, to ensure they have done a good job of thinking through everything they need to do in their project. If you can keep these basic questions in mind and answer them (in your plans) for every objective you must meet, your project will be off to a great start.

If you need help talking through a project to determine how to get started with your plans, reach out to us at our sister company Patmos Engineering Services for a free consultation.   Or if you’d like to start with planning templates, check out our documentation templates and review checklists for both DO-178C and DO-254 projects here.