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Published June 2021, Updated April 2023

Published August 2021, Updated November 2022

USACE SDEF Explained: 

What is the SDEF, and How Does It Work?

Step 1: Implement the Activity Coding Structure

Step 2: Convert the Schedule File

In this article, we’re going to explain what a SDEF (Standard Data Exchange Format) schedule file is, and how it’s created for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) project.


The SDEF file is important because it allows the transfer of schedule and cost information from the contractor’s system (e.g. Primavera P6) into the government’s system (Resident Management System, or RMS).


This transfer of information allows USACE to use RMS as a project management tool and also review schedule and cost information for progress payments.


Contractors have issues with their SDEF files when the activity coding structure isn’t set up properly in their schedule, the schedule file doesn’t comply with P6 mandatory requirements, or the cost loading is  not balanced.

This article will provide insight on:


  • The SDEF in Context
  • Steps to Create the SDEF File
  • The SDEF in Context

    In the 1980s, USACE noticed contractors were increasingly using a variety of scheduling programs. This was presenting a challenge because it was going to become cost prohibitive for the government to purchase various licenses and train employees on the different programs.


    In response, the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (USACERL) developed a standard data format for schedule files. It was intended to apply to as many scheduling programs as possible, while also being flexible enough to use on a variety of project types.


    The Standard Data Exchange Format (SDEF) was created to serve as a common denominator between various scheduling programs.


    In today’s application, the SDEF is a schedule file formatted by the contractor so it can be uploaded into the government’s Resident Management System (RMS).


    This upload transfers schedule and cost information, allowing the government to use RMS as a project management tool and review schedule and cost information for progress payments.


    It’s important the BIDI Activity Codes and costs are “balanced” with the contract CLINS, or RMS may kick back the schedule file when the contractor tries to upload it.


    Step 2 – Convert the Schedule File


    After the coding structure has been implemented into the schedule, it can then be exported as a native file from its application (for example, as a .xer file if using Primavera P6).


    The file is then run through a conversion utility. In P6, there are two executable files that reside in the installation directory, one for converting a .xer to the SDEF (search for XERP330Convert.xer), and the other to convert a SDEF to a .xer (search for P330XERConvert.exe).


    Once the conversion utility is launched, you’re prompted through the steps, and the schedule file can be converted to a .txt file.


    The .txt file is the SDEF file, and it is ready to be imported into RMS.

    USACE SDEF in P6 Coding Structure

    An example of what this coding structure looks like in P6 is below.


    Activity codes have been created on the project level (per P6 Mandatory Requirements) and set up to match the required structure with the activity code’s fields, names, lengths, and descriptions.

    SDEF Standard Activity Coding Dictionary

    How to Make the SDEF


    Step 1 - Implement the activity coding structure.


    The first step to making the SDEF is to implement the activity coding that is predefined and described in the 01 32 01.00 10 specifications.


    As seen in the snapshot below, this structure specifies each activity code’s field, name, length, and description.


    Additional Resources

  • USACE ER-1-1-11 Publication, includes details on the SDEF file type and format. 01 32 01 specifications may refer to ER-1-1-11 as a publication that’s part of the specification to the extent referenced. https://www.publications.usace.army.mil/Portals/76/Publications/EngineerRegulations/ER_1-1-11.pdf

  • Unified Process Specification Language NISTIR 5910. Details the history behind the SDEF development and application requirements. https://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/Legacy/IR/nistir5910.pdf

  • USACE Construction Engineering Research Laboratories (USACERL) Technical Report 95/40, September 1995, The Standard Data Exchange Format for Critical Path Scheduling. https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a303566.pdf

  • Primavera P6 SDEF Conversion. Provides step-by-step instructions for converting .xer files to SDEF files through P6's conversion programs. https://docs.oracle.com/cd/E17784_01/Technical_Documentation/SDEF/SDEF.pdf
  • Summary

    In this article, we explained what a SDEF file is and how it’s created for a USACE project. The SDEF file is important because it allows the transfer of schedule and cost information from the contractor’s system (e.g. Primavera P6) to the government’s system (Resident Management System / RMS).


    This transfer of information allows USACE to use RMS as a project management tool and also review schedule and cost information for progress payments.


    Questions or comments? Reach us at connect@cpm-ss.com.


    Thanks for reading.


    Related Articles:

    How to Review a P6 Schedule Log

    S-Curve from a Construction Schedule (with Examples)

    P6 Mandatory Requirements

    Schedule Cost Loading

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