Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

This Memorial Day, I’d like to honor the men and women who have served – not simply for the way that they died, but for the way they lived. They stood for something. They served. In some cases, they had the courage to deliberately go into harms way. They trained. They wrote letters. They made mistakes. They went to sleep and they got up the next morning. These were men and women like many of the men and women who are serving today.

If you feel motivated, turn to someone who is still serving and thank them. Tell them what their service and their lives mean to you. The moment you create for them can make a big difference in their lives.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Federal Decision Making

Who is in charge does matter, but good coordinating mechanisms matter more. The ability to make high quality business IT decisions is within reach, but making them part of our organizational fabric is easier said than done.

A "high quality decision" in this context is a somewhat complex concept that deserves a few words. High quality decisions maximize resources and minimize flail. They produce the biggest bang for the buck, mitigate "tail" or after-the-fact costs, and put "rounds on target" meaning they satisfy the organizational requirement for a given period of time (vs. a perceived requirement or collateral requirements). High quality decisions endure over time and reach distributed audiences in tact. They are clear, capable of being executed, and understood by all stakeholders involved.

It also bears mentioning that not making a decision at all can cost as much as making a poor decision. I have seen cases where not making a decision can cost as much as $1 million per day. A high quality decision, therefore, is also timely. 

The Department of Defense (DoD), like other Departments, is struggling with some important problems. Pressure to manage resources more effectively is mounting, bureaucracy is slow, and business systems (like financial management and materiel management systems) are not working together as well as we would like them to. Interoperability, clean audit, financial visibility and common supplier engagement on a Department level are a few problems that remain elusive. Transformation of the DoD remains a top priority of the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

These problems are not new. The DoD has been wrestling with them for more than two decades. In my 20 years working with the government, a long line of leaders have stepped into the batter's box and taken their best swings. Each time a new leader steps up to the plate, hopes run high for about two years. Again and again, the “new” leader's ideas don't seem to work as planned and energy fizzles. Status quo washes away most of the progress made by individuals like ocean waves wash away sand castles.

When one leader can't seem to make things work, we usually let them run their course and install a new one.

Occasionally, we get rid of them early. In either case, spirits soar once again. It is clear to everyone that the “new-new" leader is a good person and has some good things going for them. We continue to hope that each new leadership selection is the one that will take us across the goal line to real and lasting Transformation.
 "Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world" - Archimedes
Yet, no matter how many changes of command or administrations we see - or where we go in the Department – the same problems persist. Do we keep selecting bad leadership, or is there something else going on?

I've been behind closed doors and in meetings with people in high-level (1, 2 and 3 stars; and SES) leadership positions many times. Several of them have been kind enough to be references on my resume. In my experience, with few exceptions, these are good people and good leaders. They want to make a difference, and they put a lot of energy into doing what they can to fix problems and improve their environment. A few have confided frustration with the system they work in and a desire to do more.

The problem (and the solution) lies within the decision-making ecosystem - not with the individual decision makers. The decision-making ecosystem is often a dangerous place for a decision maker to work - often threatening a decision maker's longevity or overall effectiveness. It is full of political agendas, traps, and lack of clarity. The noise level created by the mass of information and competing interest groups can be overwhelming.

Staffs that support our decision makers are the best and brightest. They are loyal, resourceful and tenacious. They do their best to minimize the noise, protect their decision maker, and present the best possible alternatives for their decision maker to consider.

The problem, at least when it comes to making high quality decisions in the business IT space, is larger than the decision makers and their staffs. It is the product of basic human nature, and an increasing level of complexity and connectedness. Fixing the problem requires a systemic approach, and it requires leverage.

The problem cannot be solved by any one leader, by staff work, or with good data alone. The decision making system must be supported in such a way as to minimize risk for the decision maker (ensuring their survival is not threatened by making the "right" decision). It must be supported by accurate and complete information that is served up in a time frame that works for the decision cycle time. And it must contain adequate feedback mechanisms for both the decision maker and the ones affected by the decisions.

Minimizing risk means giving our decision makers the freedom to make the right decisions without the threat of doing damage to their career or reputation. A common way to get rid of a "disruptive" decision maker is to discredit them or fail to support them on other important issues after they make an unpopular (even if correct) move. No leader wants to spend a career getting into a place where they can make a difference, only to spend all of their political capital and kill their career over a single difficult issue.

Accurate and complete information means cutting through the noise, working out the dependencies, and ensuring collateral issues are clearly identified and easy to address. Too often, especially in a world where technology is ubiquitous - crossing the boundaries of many ecosystems - performing one action can be duplicative (raising cost), contradictory (raising cost), or otherwise have unintended consequences (usually raising cost).

Understanding the complete picture accurately is not possible through unassisted human effort. Modeling, analysis and data sharing techniques are available today that can mitigate the risk of not having accurate and complete information at the time of decision making.

The decision cycle time refers to a window of time that is considered reasonable for making a decision about a given subject. Tactical decisions usually have short windows - a leader is expected to make those decisions quickly. Strategic decisions are allowed a little more time. In any case, organizations have their own decision making "tempo." The challenge for the ecosystem is to ensure that the time it takes to do the analysis is not longer than the decision cycle time. Good analysis that misses the window is often wasted effort.

Adequate feedback mechanisms are engineered into the decision making process and adjusted to fit the situation. Some decisions require testimony to get the full picture. Some don't. Information Technology (IT) portfolio decision making windows are known one to five years in advance. Annual reviews of decisions already made are known at least a year in advance. With proper planning and expectation setting, input can and should be gathered and processed in a time and manner that is appropriate to the decision being made.

The results of decisions and the raw materials (e.g. standards and budget priorities) can be conveyed to all corners of the globe along internet channels. And raw data from legacy systems can be shuttled back to leadership along an information service bus using Web 2.0 methodologies.

Transforming the decision making ecosystem deliberately and uniformly can save the Defense Department billions of dollars in redundant spending, after-the-fact interfaces, and re-work; but it may literally take an act of Congress to get started. Fortunately, Congress and the GAO have taken action in the form of statute that affects the entire DoD - regardless of branch of Service. 10USC2222 and 10USC186 provide the DoD with a set of tools, that when properly applied, can help to support decision makers across the Department.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Government Can Embrace Social Media

On Tuesday, 12 October, 2010, I had an opportunity to speak at a FedTalks event at the Sydney Harmon Hall in DC. The theme question for the event was "How can we use technology to change government." My answer was "We're already doing it." See coverage of my speech in the New York Times.

David Dejewski of DOD-Business Transformation Agency discusses from FedScoop on Vimeo.

I chose to address "Beyond Web 2.0 in the Department of Defense" as it is a topic I have some personal experience with, and it fit with the event theme. My message was simple:

1. Acknowledge and celebrate this moment in history. We will face cultural challenges when applying Web 2.0. Acknowledge right up front that the last 40 years have been a ride. Technology has promised over and over again that it will deliver efficiencies and cost reductions - and it has! But it has also delivered a lot of disappointments. Each new release or upgrade promises to be "the one," but we outgrow it quickly, and soon find ourselves looking for the "next one." Our Programs bust hardware limitations. Our processing speed can't keep up with new applications. Semantic interoperability problems keep our data locked up in contextual silos. The list goes on.

These and other challenges live in our collective memories and will slow down new Web 2.0 deployments. It's a mistake to ignore them. Better to address them right up front and throw a "going away party."

In a Web 2.0 world, the focus is no longer on hardware or software bottlenecks. The focus in a Web 2.0 world is on creating and consuming value. Make that distinction clear.

2. Get your security stuff together first. In a distributed environment like Web 2.0, identity management is everything. Whether you're serving data or consuming it, being able to establish identity, protect data enroute from point A to point B, and being able to monitor interactions with the data is critical. In the DoD, we use an ID card, a PIN and a third party authentication service which sits in the cloud to authenticate each person and each system that interacts with us. Without a solid security service, none of what we do would be possible.

3. Create massive value.. Make it a campaign. Bring the discussion into your board rooms. Put it in your publications. Get people thinking in terms of creating value at all levels in your organization. Get people away from thinking in terms of a matrix of program offices, huge acquisitions, Multi year deployments or complicated IV&V. We still have a place for these "old school" techniques, but for the majority of our employees, a simple app that takes 4 hours to create, that grabs a little info from this source or that source, mashes it together and allows the employee to interact with it is all they need. "Old school" centralized program office approaches are costly, rarely hit the mark for the people "on the ground," and take so long that by the time they've deployed a new release, the world has already moved on.

I referred to the idea of getting beyond Web 2.0 (and interactive Web platform that includes things like Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Blogs, Jack-be-like mashups,, iTunes,,,, etc) and into creating massive value as Web 2.1. I made the distinction to help people to reset the horizon. The goal is NOT to deploy these multiple platforms. The goal is to employ these platforms with purpose. is a great example. Someone asks "where did the recovery money go?" Web 2.1 minded people understand that the data need to answer that question is all over the country. They employ a Web 2.1 strategy to ID the data, expose the data, subscribe to the data, mash the data together, and display the data for the people who want the answer to the question.

The professionals who created did not try to create a massive database that everyone in the country has to register with, log on to, upload data into, or pull reports from. They simply deployed some Web logic that would work with existing data sources - no matter where it is or who owns it - to provide an answer to the question asked. Simple. Brilliant. Cost effective.

So how can we use this approach to solve more problems? Consider the following questions:

Where's my medical data?
How did we spend our budget?
Where are our people?
Who's gotten what training?
Where are our supplies?
Who's got the best price on bandages (AKA Cling, AKA 4x4's, AKA Gauze, etc)? Without worrying about semantics.

These can all be answered the same way that, or answers questions - a LOT cheaper and a lot more interactive than we can answer them with a monster Multi- billion dollar program..

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Missing in Action

This morning, I was making my usual online rounds and found, to my disappointment, a whole lot of good content missing from the Internet. More than two years after I left my post as the MHS Chief for Defense Business Transformation, the Web site we spent good time, money (more than 100k), and serious mental energy on was - instead of being updated (which it hadn't been once in two yeas)- scrapped. Removed. Taken down. Simply turned off.

In it's place is a message that the DBT site is being constructed and a statement to please check back later. The gray box that says please check back later is much more helpful than the Web site we spent so much on.

Links all over - like those to 45 months of weekly briefings (, for example) are broken. One of the few usable Component examples of Business Transformation actually being implemented is gone. Like an ocean wave washing away sand castles, the work done by my teams - $2.4 million per year for five years - is gone. Success stories, briefings, podcasts, models, review guides, theory and education, the icon of our labor - all gone.

This I have found is pretty common in the Department of Defense. A leader comes in, does some remarkable things, and as a consequence, disturbs the status quo. Leaders move on, but the status quo, like a jungle creeping over an abandoned village, returns and wipes away any trace of progress made. A new leader sometimes comes in, finds the previous work either not as successful as they would like it, or carrying political baggage. They aren't up to carrying on the fight left behind by the previous leader, so they wipe the slate clean and start over again.

Anyone who has spent enough time in the DoD has witnesses (or fallen victim to) this phenomenon. Reinventing is an exercise full of new promise, fresh energy, and rapid forward momentum. Ultimately, it tends to end up in the same place as the last project. As a steward of taxpayer's money, I question the wisdom of this kind of behavior.

Why is the DoD missing an enterprise-wide plan and reporting mechanism that keeps tabs on progress and provides continuity over time? Why doesn't the DoD have coordinating mechanisms to evaluate these new inventions - no matter where they pop up - and bend resources to a common purpose. These are questions I ask myself often.

The thing is, every leader who commits to making change has to overcome tremendous resistance. They have to cut back the proverbial bush, expose the truth, build something of value and try to get someone else to carry it forward. This consumes a tremendous amount of resources.

The product of my labors in the example above survived for about 2 years without me. Without me in the picture, it was slowly overcome. Once overcome, it is as if we weren't even there.

How many leaders, great and small, have come and gone only to have the memories if their deeds washed away? How much of what we do is enduring? How much money, time and other resource do we waste trying to make a difference? How many times is history re-written by the last person sitting at the table?

I wonder if I had known the ultimate fate of what we were building, if I would have felt so compelled to commit the resources I did. I wonder how many resources have been committed - and washed away over time - by others like me who have either moved on or are enjoying their retirement? I wonder what the right measurement is for "progress."

I am encourage by enduring effects that some great leaders like ADM Grace Hopper have had. It makes me wonder how she did it.

Maybe the fact that there's a chance to succeed will encourage the next generation of leadership to jump in and whack down some jungle vines of their own.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tools Available to the Transformation Agent

Two sets of tools are available today that, if executed with the right combination of guts and wisdom, could have a historically significant effect on the DoD IT portfolio and, as a consequence, the DoD warfighting capability in general.

The first set comes from Public Law 108-375, 10USC2222, 10USC186 and the 2005 NDAA - from here on referred to as the "Core" Defense Business Transformation legislation. This Core both specifies and mandates that all decisions made relative to developing, modernizing or enhancing business IT in the DoD must be supported by a specified suite of decision support tools.

The fact that these tools are mandated by a higher authority for use everywhere in the Department of Defense has political value. The fact that these tools, when made to work together as a decision support system, behave almost identical to the investment decision support tools used by city and county governments all over the US is not, in my opinion, an accident.

They have not yet been executed in a way that provides even a fraction of the potential value. Execution is moving in the right direction for the OSD level Investment Review Boards IRB's, but on balance, the IRB's are a fraction of the decision makers in the DoD who are making daily decisions about their IT portfolios. Many DoD decision makers have little decision support other than their action officer staffs and no visibility to what others are doing.

If I were investing in DoD myself, I would consider this set of tools an undervalued asset.

The second set comes from Darwinian advancement in technology and innovation. What the folks over at milTech Solutions might not be quick to reveal is that the milSuite of tools, coupled with Army Knowledge Online (AKO) or a similar ubiquitous backbone, has the power to do much more than merely enable people to socialize. It can enable systems (and their associated data) to socialize - without the need for months of RICE object development and costly interfaces. Another undervalued asset.

Either one of these tool sets could put billions back into circulation, but not without a good trainer and champions. The tectonic shift that either would cause in the DoD would affect nearly everyone. Anyone reading this who has been around DoD long enough understands what I am not saying.

Government Accountibility Office Says More Work Is Needed

Defense Business Transformation: DOD Needs to Take Additional Actions to Further Define Key Management Roles, Develop Measurable Goals, and Align Planning Efforts

According to GAO-11-181R January 26, 2011, the Department of Defense still needs to make progress In some key areas:

1. To establish ongoing accountability and better leverage the unique positions of the CMO and DCMO to provide the leadership necessary to follow up the Secretary's recent efficiency initiative for the long term, the Secretary of Defense should assign specific roles and responsibilities to the CMO and DCMO for integrating the Secretary's efficiency initiative with ongoing reform efforts, overseeing its implementation, and otherwise institutionalizing the effort for the long term

2. To enhance DOD's ability to set strategic direction for its business transformation efforts, and better align and institutionalize its efforts to develop and implement plans and measure progress against established goals, the Secretary of Defense should direct the CMO to ensure that DOD's revised SMP contains measurable goals and funding priorities linked to those goals.

3. To enhance DOD's ability to set strategic direction for its business transformation efforts, and better align and institutionalize its efforts to develop and implement plans and measure progress against established goals, the Secretary of Defense should direct the CMO to issue guidance to establish a strategic planning process with mechanisms---such as procedures and milestones---for routinely updating the SMP and military department business transformation plans. In particular, this guidance should include elements such as how DOD and the military departments---including the CMO, DCMO, and military department CMOs---will reach consensus on business priorities, coordinate review and approval of updates to plans, synchronize the development of plans with the budget process, and monitor the implementation of reform initiatives, and report progress, on a periodic basis, towards achieving established goals.

DoD Budget Cuts

To cut or not to cut...
Where to cut...

This discussion is on main US stage right now. It made it into the State of the Union address last night. Yet, this is an over simplification of the real questions we should be asking. It ignores what Transformation is all about.

If someone decides that they need to lose weight, the simplest and most expeditious way is to lop off an arm or a leg. Doing so will ensure that a person will lose weight fast, but treating a weight problem with this kind of solution causes collateral damage and it ignores the fact that, baring legitimate medical pathology, poor decision making is a root cause. Every time a person reaches for fast food, junk food, eats more than they need to, or decides not to exercise, a little more fat is the result.

The DoD is great at making tactical and strategic combat related decisions. One could argue that the US DoD is the best in the world at this. It is also terrible at making business investment decisions. Poor decisions collected over the years have put a lot of "fat" on this beast & it is causing the DoD to be operating in poor health. Vital resources that should be flowing to needed operations are plugged up in redundant investments, un-needed investments, poorly executed investments, under-executed investments, etc.

One look at the numbers submitted as a "business case" for these investments would reveal just how healthy DoD business investment decision making is. A look at the supporting documents and information (missing or wildly incomplete solutions architecture, self-certifying compliance letters, undefined milestones, recycled arguments, etc) being used to inform decision makers would reveal the quality of DoD due diligence. And a look at the actions produced by our decision making system in terms of redundancies allowed to continue, follow up (or not), course corrections (or not), accountability (or not), and management of the Department bottom line would reveal the overall quality and effect of the decisions the DoD's current decision making system is producing.

There is another way to lose weight. A way to make cuts without so much collateral damage. Change our habits. Make sure our decision making "food" is grown with care and in good shape by setting (and checking) the standard for business cases and supporting documents. Consume good information instead of information "fast food." Exercise our decision making powers by forcing course corrections, remembering where we were yesterday, and setting (and sticking to) a strategy for where we will be tomorrow.

Core legislation (Public Law 108-375, 10USC2222, 10USC186, and the 2005 NDAA) gave the DoD the tools it needs to get healthy. The Business Enterprise Architecture (BEA), the Enterprise Transition Plan (ETP), an Investment Review (Due Diligence) process and governing bodies, an Annual Review and even threw in a way to get and keep the DoD on the path to better health - the ADA.

What are your thoughts about losing weight in the DoD?